IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also alleged that the Congress was associated with Cambridge Analytica, which is at the centre of a global storm on the alleged misuse of data from 50 million Facebook users. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also alleged that the Congress was associated with Cambridge Analytica, which is at the centre of a global storm on the alleged misuse of data from 50 million Facebook users. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Govt warns Facebook of stringent legal action if found misusing data

IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad says that under the IT Act, Facebook's chief executive officer, Mark Zuckerberg, can be summoned to India if required

New Delhi: The government on Wednesday warned Facebook of stringent legal action if it is found misusing data, with law and information technology (IT) minister Ravi Shankar Prasad saying that under the IT Act, the social media giant’s chief executive officer, Mark Zuckerberg, can be summoned to India if required. 

The warning came after the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alleged that the Congress party was associated with London-based analytics firm Cambridge Analytica, which is at the centre of a global storm on the alleged misuse of data from 50 million Facebook users.

Prasad said the Congress indulged in “theft of online data" to help with its election campaigns, a charge that the opposition party denied.

“Will the Congress party depend on data manipulation and theft to woo voters? What is Cambridge Analytica’s role in (Congress president) Rahul Gandhi’s social media profile," Prasad, who is also a senior BJP spokesperson, said in an interaction with reporters.

“Indian National Congress or the Congress president have never used and never hired the services of the company called Cambridge Analytica mentioned by the Union law minister. This is a fake agenda, a white lie being dished out on fake facts by the law minister unfortunately, and this has become a daily order," Randeep Surjewala, the Congress party’s chief spokesperson, said.

Cambridge Analytica’s chief executive Alexander Nix—who was suspended on Tuesday—was secretly recorded in a Channel 4 sting claiming that the company ran Donald Trump’s campaign during the 2016 US presidential election. The firm is accused of harvesting private data from millions of Facebook profiles to influence and identify voter behaviour.

As of January, there were around 250 million Facebook users in India.

According to security experts, the incident yet again highlights the need for a stronger data protection law in the country.

“It has been almost six years since the report of the Justice AP Shah group of experts on privacy, but India still doesn’t have a data protection law. We urgently need a law that enshrines privacy by design — that would prevent entities like Truecaller from gaining access to third parties’ data without their consent, and entities like Facebook from providing it— as well as a liability regime that would enable an Indian data protection authority to hold accountable those who violate the law," said Pranesh Prakash, policy director at think tank Centre for Internet and Society

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