Exhorting that data in India must be protected, Minister of Electronics and Information Technology and Law and Justice Ravi Shankar Prasad on Monday said that the country should become a strong centre for data analysis. He also warned companies against misusing data of Indians to manipulate the electoral process ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in 2019.
“Let me make it very clear to all the companies indulging in data analysis … any attempt to influence India’s elections in a covert and overt manner, by abuse of data will not be acceptable,” Prasad said, adding that social media campaigns by political parties was acceptable, but “fudging or abusing of data” to influence the elections will not be allowed.
Earlier this year, US-based social networking giant Facebook and British firm Cambridge Analytica came under an intense scrutiny from users as well as governments across the globe after a data leak scandal hit about 87 million users. Data analytics and political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, was accused of harvesting personal information of millions of Facebook users illegally to help political campaigns and influence polls in several countries, prompting Indian government to shoot off notices to both companies. “Facebook has already apologised, and we are pursuing the matter with Cambridge Analytica,” the minister said.
On the larger issue of data privacy, a 10-member committee is deliberating on a new data protection law but Prasad declined comment on the committee’s report. “Let the final report of the committee come,” he said. The committee headed by Justice BN Srikrishna (former judge of Supreme Court) was set up in August last year, and is on the verge to finalising its views. The panel is expected to submit its report this month.
The formation of the panel had come amid concerns over personal information being compromised with increasing use of biometric identifier Aadhaar in an array of services, as also data breach incidents in the private sector. The high-level panel, which draws its members from government, academia and industry, has been tasked with studying and identifying key data protection issues and recommending ways to address them.