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Indian Parliament calls for public opinions on citizen data security

Indian Parliament calls for public opinions on citizen data security

On 18 May 2018, the Press Information Bureau Government of India released a press statement stating that the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, Lok Sabha will be exploring the issue of ‘citizens’ data security and privacy’.

Superintended by Parliament Member Anurag Singh Thakur, the members of the parliamentary panel will be taking suggestions and opinions from experts on the subject and professionals from various tech fields. Further, ‘for the purpose of wider consultations’, input and opinions of the public will be solicited. The panel was unanimous in suggesting that Cambridge Analytica and Facebook must be called in for hearing before the report is finalised.

The scandal had dominated the political discourse in the country, with accusations being made over the penetration of data consultancy firms and whether Indian political parties used these services to influence election outcomes in their favour. 

"While the government is cognisant of the positive role played by social media in promoting awareness and acting as a tool for social cohesion and empowerment, breach of privacy cannot be tolerated," the Ministry had stated.

The government has acknowledged the increasing need for data protection and is also taking steps to deal with a number of different crimes, including data theft, hacking, financial frauds, and online stalking. Law enforcement officers are being trained to handle social media platforms related to crime investigation and to understand the usage, privacy and security of social networking sites.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information technology, in a press statement on 23 March 2018 had sent a notice to Cambridge Analytica seeking its response to allegations of attainment of data without consent for ‘unauthorised activities’. The release stated that the Ministry had been reason to believe Cambridge Analytica might have used the data to influence the behaviour of individuals. 

Reference has also been made to several accounts in the media reporting incidents of gross abuse of social media platform to influence the sanctity of polling process. Note has also been taken of alleged claims whereby elections in India were sought to be influenced through questionable means.

A Parliamentary Panel was held on 9 May 2018, and The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology was briefed by the Union Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba and other senior officials on the subject of citizens' data security and privacy. 

“During the meeting, the panel members batted for greater freedom for Indian users against compulsory signing up of 'Terms of Consent' agreement. Members said there is an urgent need to simplify this, instead of forcing users to tick every box while installing an application," an MP, who attended the meeting, said.

In the press release, it stated that part of the records of the committee will be made up of memoranda containing the opinions and suggestions, either In Hindi or English, that were submitted to the committee – through either email at comit@sansad.nic.in or fax (to 011-23792726) – within two weeks after the press release. It emphatically noted that every submission would be confidential and disclosure of information would be considered a ‘breach of privilege’ of the committee.

The press release also mentioned verbal statements would be taken by corresponding with the Lok Sabha Secretariat, although the final decision would be made by the committee.