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Big tech companies need to be responsible, accountable: Jaishankar

Foreign minister S. Jaishankar noted that challenges such as climate change, terrorism and pandemics were global problems but the response to them tended to be national (Photo: Reuters)Premium
Foreign minister S. Jaishankar noted that challenges such as climate change, terrorism and pandemics were global problems but the response to them tended to be national (Photo: Reuters)

  • In his interaction with the India Global Forum, Jaishankar also questioned whether non-state players could be allowed to have more power given their sheer size than many countries

NEW DELHI: Big technology companies need to be responsible and accountable when they have power, Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar has said, amid the ongoing tussle between the Indian government and firms like Twitter over India’s new IT norms.

In his interaction with the India Global Forum that also had former British prime minister Tony Blair participating, Jaishankar also questioned whether non-state players could be allowed to have more power given their sheer size than many countries.

Stating that he was laying out his argument as a pro-technology person who has seen how technology changes lives, the minister said, “In a democratic society we have to ask ourselves - big tech is there. It is in my life, very visibly in my life. So you have a big presence. Where is the responsibility which comes with it? They have huge power, where is the accountability? And they harvest our data as they do across the world. You have the opposite of the American Revolution – representation but no taxation."

“You know international relations have been devised on the basis of state-based players. What happens when non-state players are in some ways bigger than many states? These are serious issues that need to be debated. I think they can't be brushed under the carpet saying that you can't question them because you are attacking freedom of speech. That’s a cop-out … It is a very very legitimate debate," he added.

The comments come as the Facebook-owned messaging platform WhatsApp has filed a complaint with the Delhi high court against the new IT guidelines under which digital media companies will have to disclose the identity of the "first originator of information" when asked for it. Whatsapp, which has nearly 400 million users in India, cited the right to privacy and asked the Delhi High Court to declare that one of the new rules is a violation of privacy rights in India's constitution, Reuters reported.

The new IT rules require social media firms to appoint three full-time executives, all Indian residents - one to address compliance issues, another for addressing user grievances and a third for round-the-clock coordination with law enforcement bodies. Firms must also remove content within 36 hours of a legal order, and use automated processes to take down objectionable material such as pornography. Twitter has named a non-resident person for grievance redressal when the rules stipulate the official has to be residing in India.

In other remarks, Jaishankar noted that challenges such as climate change, terrorism and pandemics were global problems but the response to them tended to be national. "Which country has not thought nationally? Unless we are able to overcome that and look at international coordination and collaboration, we are not going to be able to get on top of this," Jaishankar said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The reality is that nobody can make vaccines by themselves. If the world comes together, we are going to scale up production of vaccines," he said. The minister also highlighted the issue of the transfer of technology and funds to developing countries to help mitigate the impact of climate change.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair said the G20 can play a crucial role in uniting global efforts to deal with the covid-19 pandemic and climate challenges.

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