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A file photo of the Indian Parliament. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint (Priyanka Parashar/Mint)
A file photo of the Indian Parliament. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint (Priyanka Parashar/Mint)

Parl panel widens scrutiny over data protection, hears views of Twitter, Amazon

Widening its scrutiny of social media, e-commerce and online services companies over issues linked to data protection, the parliamentary panel has now decided to invite representatives of Reliance Jio and Airtel, Uber, Ola as well as Truecaller

New Delhi: The joint parliamentary committee (JPC) on Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 has asked Twitter to apologise in writing and also submit an affidavit over the issue of showing Ladakh as part of China and the parliamentary committee also had discussions with representatives of Amazon over transfer of data to United States.

Widening its scrutiny of social media, e-commerce and online services companies over issues linked to data protection, the parliamentary panel has now decided to invite representatives of Reliance Jio and Airtel, cab aggregating services Uber and Ola as well as caller id and spam blocking service Truecaller. The committee on Wednesday heard views of representatives of Twitter, Amazon and Amazon Web Services.

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“The apology gives by Twitter was a verbal apology and the parliamentary panel is unanimous in its decision that it should be a written apology and Twitter should also submit an affidavit. The mistake of showing a wrong map was done by the company and not a user of the product. There were questions about which map the company uses and what action was taken by the company on the use of wrong map of India. Some of the members also asked if the company would have made the same mistake in China?" said a person in the know of development.

With an aim to engage with more such digital platforms and companies, the panel is scheduled to hold another round of meeting on Thursday with Google and Paytm representatives. According to people aware of developments, in a bid to widen its scrutiny, the panel could next call telecom companies including Reliance Jio and Airtel; cab aggregating services Uber and Ola as well as caller id and spam blocking service Truecaller

“Representatives of Amazon were not comfortable over the issue of transfer of data. They raised concern that if they were not allowed to transfer data to US, it would affect their business. They do not want storage of data to be done here but want it to done in US. Amazon was represented by two vice presidents of the company and senior counsel member of the company," said a person in the know of development.

After coming cross hairs with initially expressing its inability to attend the meeting, according to people aware of developments, representatives of Amazon attended the meet on Wednesday. Panel members made queries about data gathering and storage with them particularly with respect to the AWS or Amazon Web Services which deals with cloud computing services.

In Wednesday’s meeting however the spotlight was on engagement of panel members with Twitter representatives who questioned representatives from the micro-blogging site over showing Ladakh as part of China. According to people aware of developments, panel members, largely unanimous over political lines, conveyed that the move could amount to treason and demanded that a written explanation should be submitted by them on the issue.

“The committee was of the unanimous opinion that Twitter's explanation on showing Ladakh as part of China was inadequate. But, it is not only a question of the sensitivity of India or Indians. It is a question about national integrity and sovereignty of the country, and not respecting that is a criminal offence. And displaying Indian map improperly and incorrectly is an offence of treason and attracts imprisonment of seven years," panel chairperson Meenakshi Lekhi told Press Trust of India after the meeting.

The development comes in the backdrop of Electronics & IT Ministry Secretary, Ajay Sawhney shooting off a strongly worded letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, conveying the union government’s strong disapproval over misrepresentation of the Indian map. The letter had then said that such incidents bring disrepute not just to Twitter but also questions its fairness and neutrality. According to people in the know of development, representatives of Twitter said that they respected the sensitivities but they expressed regret on the incident.

“The recent geotagging issue was swiftly resolved by our teams. We are committed to openness, transparency around our work and will remain in regular touch with the Government to share timely updates," Twitter said in a statement about the issue on Wednesday.

Among other issues which came up in the meeting on Wednesday, which also saw panel members also questioning Twitter officials on the issue of banning and shadow banning as well as transparency policy particularly during elections. According to people aware of developments, panel members questioned Twitter over what its policy were on this issue and what were the factors which determine it.

“Privacy and data protection is at the core of our products and services that are designed to earn the trust of people who use them. Our focus is on working with governments across the world including in India to develop a forward-looking approach to regulation which is practical, realistic, feasible to implement, and takes into account the long-term impact on the wider digital ecosystem that protects the Open Internet and universal access," said a Twitter spokesperson in an emailed response to Mint.

Prasid Banerjee and Saumya Tewari of Mint and PTI contributed to the story.

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