The government has asked the CBI to investigate the alleged misuse of data of India’s Facebook users by British political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica, Law and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told Rajya Sabha on Thursday. Prasad also said that the government has asked social media platforms to provide technological solutions so that fake news and provocative messages can be filtered. This comes against the backdrop of several Upper House members voicing concern over social media rumours that have led to lynching incidents.
Referring to the reported breach in Facebook due to which data of a large number of users was compromised by Cambridge Analytica, he said notices had been issued to the two companies, seeking their response.
“Facebook responded that they will streamline their internal processes regarding handling of personal data. They stated that the case of Cambridge Analytica was a case of breach of trust. They promised to take various other steps to ensure that such breaches do not recur,” Prasad said.
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However, he said, Cambridge Analytica gave an initial response that data of Indians was not breached, but this was not in conformity with what was reported by Facebook. Cambridge Analytica also did not respond to a subsequent notice, he said.
“The government has entrusted this issue to be investigated by the CBI for possible violation of Information Technology Act, 2000 and IPC,” Prasad said, adding that it is suspected that Cambridge Analytica may have been involved in illegally obtaining data of Indians which could be misused.
He said there were also reports that user data was “illegally accessed by hardware manufacturers who had tie-ups with Facebook”. “With regard to this issue, Facebook has reported that they are not aware of any misuse of information, including Indian users’ information,” he said.
Responding to the members’ concerns during a calling attention notice on the misuse of social media and propagation of fake news, he said the government was seriously considering appropriate rules requiring all social media platforms to locate their grievance officers in India.
“The duty of such grievance officer should cover not only to receive grievances on real time basis but also to inform law enforcement agencies,” Prasad said.
WhatsApp, he said, has informed that it will introduce fact-checking and fake news verification mechanisms to help people check the veracity of content on the platform.
The government, he added, will also strengthen the legal framework to ensure that significant social media and instant messaging service providers can face legal proceedings in India itself in cases of misuse of their platforms.
Earlier, several members, including Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, had raised concerns over incidents in which abuse of social media led to lynchings, with some of them even accusing the government of inaction.
In his response, Prasad said, “These (incidents) are deeply painful and regrettable, as well as a matter of deep concern for the government. The government has taken prompt action.”
He said the government planned to issue directives in public interest requiring all social media platforms to ensure that they “do not become vehicles for promoting hatred, terrorism, money laundering, mob violence and rumour mongering.”
Leader of Opposition Azad said it was a matter of “shame” that such incidents happened in a civilised nation like India. He said 40 lynchings based on rumours have taken place this year so far in 13 states.
Without taking names, Azad said Union Ministers and MLAs “go to jail to meet those allegedly involved in mob violence or felicitate such people. They should be dropped.”
CPI leader D Raja said social media was being used to create strains in human relations and conflicts have increased manifold. He alleged that right-wing organisations spread falsehood to intimidate their opponents.