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Some JPC members suggested that a privilege motion should be moved against Amazon for refusing to appear before the panel. ramesh pathania/mint
Some JPC members suggested that a privilege motion should be moved against Amazon for refusing to appear before the panel. ramesh pathania/mint

Parliament panel on data protection bill grills FB

Panel calls for strict action against Amazon for its refusal to attend the 28 Oct meet

Social media platforms such as Facebook came under pressure from parliamentarians on Friday as the joint parliamentary committee (JPC) looking at the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, asked the representatives of the company about portability of data, advertisement revenue generated from India, and the corporate tax being paid by them in India.

However, members of the JPC was cross with e-commerce giant Amazon’s response, as it has conveyed in a letter to the JPC that its executives were at overseas locations and may not be able to travel at this point in time to attend the meeting on 28 October. JPC members expressed their unhappiness with the response and feels strict action should be initiated against the firm.

“The JPC was unanimous and all the members were annoyed that Amazon decided not to appear before the parliamentary committee. There is a view that the Union government should intervene and strict action should be taken against Amazon. There are a number of steps that can be taken. Some members also suggested that a privilege motion should be moved against Amazon. However, what is the guarantee that representatives of Amazon would come before the privilege committee. If they can skip a meeting called by JPC, what is the guarantee that they will appear before any other parliamentary committee?" said a person in the know of development.

Strict action needs to be taken against Amazon because if one company refuses to appear before the parliamentary committee, other companies and individuals could also skip meetings or refuse to appear before a parliamentary committee, members of the JPC said. “The panel is unanimous in its opinion that coercive action can be suggested to the government against the e-commerce company," JPC chairperson, Meenakshi Lekhi, told Press Trust of India.

However, an Amazon spokesperson said: “We have the utmost respect and regard for the important work being done by the JPC on the PDP Bill and have already offered our written submissions for consideration of this august committee. We will continue to engage in any way the JPC considers fit. The inability of our experts to travel from overseas due to travel restriction and depose before the JPC during the ongoing pandemic may have been misconstrued and led to a misunderstanding. We will work with the JPC to set the record straight."

During the discussion with representatives of Facebook on Friday, members of the JPC asked them about its advertisement revenue in India. “To the question of advertisement revenue being generated by Facebook in India, the representatives did not have an answer. JPC members were not satisfied with the replies of the representatives of the companies and they have been asked to submit a written reply. The JPC had asked them submit all the replies in one week but they have asked for two weeks," said a person in the know of the development.

The JPC members also raised questions about data protection and data portability with Facebook. Parliamentarians said there were millions of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp users in India and their personal data was being stored outside the country. “This is a security issue. If tomorrow the State wants to retrieve data, how will it possible? If a court wants some data, how can we get it? What will happen in such a scenario?" the person added.

Saumya Tewari and Prasid Banerjee from New Delhi and Tarush Bhalla from Bengaluru contributed to this story.

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