Imagine that you live in a house guarded by a gatekeeper. Though you are free to come and go as you please, the gatekeeper observes your movements and passes that information to outside vendors. The vendors use it to manipulate your schedule and preferences to sell you a product, influence your buying decisions, or network with you.

When you learn about the collusion, you go straight to the property-management team. The team moves your residence to a walled garden. It replaces the gatekeeper with a protector who accompanies you everywhere and, in an act designed to make your privacy absolute, doesn’t let you venture beyond the high walls except when they deem it necessary. The chaperone watches everything you do, listens attentively to every word you utter, and becomes your only source of news, ideas, products, and services.

The gatekeeper operated in an open market—albeit designed to exploit you—that gave you a choice to ignore every offer and suggestion. In the walled garden, the chaperone’s selection is your only choice. In essence, you have traded an imperfect democracy for a perfect dictatorship.

This is the issue that lies at the heart of the privacy conundrum. And why the concept of regulated digital-privacy protection, as expressed in India’s Digital Personal Data Protection Bill Bill The Ken A short users’ guide to the new Digital Personal Data Protection Bill Read more , 2022, may pose the greatest threat to individual choice, digital freedom, and privacy.

On 18 November 2022, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology published the Bill’s fourth draft in as many years. The draft provides strong protections for the processing of digital-personal data, recognising an individual’s right to protect his or her information and the need to process personal data for law-and-order purposes.

The Bill has been created for three broad reasons. First, to counter the prevailing dominance and interference of the US-based tech giants such as Google, Meta, Amazon, and Apple in commercial, civil, political, and press freedoms. Globally, the European Union (EU) and some US states have already enacted such a law to protect the sovereign rights of their citizens.

Second, to oversee the country’s growing footprint of digital governance—including the Information Technology Act, 2000, and the latest avatar of the IT Amendment Rules, 2022. While the former prescribes a few safeguards against and considerable indemnification for digital intermediaries digital intermediaries Digital intermediaries Entities that store or transmit data on behalf of other persons and include telecom and internet service providers, online marketplaces, search engines, and social-media sites. , the latter seeks to subject content on social-media platforms to direct government scrutiny by allowing users to appeal against the platforms’ decisions without a legislative basis.