IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad today warned companies against misusing data of Indians to manipulate the electoral process ahead of general elections next year, and said the government will not tolerate any attempt to “fudge or abuse” data. “Let me make it very clear to all the companies indulging in data analysis…any attempt to influence India’s elections in a covert and overt manner, by abuse of data will not be acceptable,” said Prasad, who is also the Minister for Law and Justice. He was responding to a question on safeguards that the government intends to put in place to ensure that data analytics companies not not indulge in data manipulation in the run-up to the general elections.
India is “proud” of its democratic process and any attempt to compromise the same “will not be tolerated”, Prasad said at a conference organised to highlight the four year achievements of his ministries. He said the social media campaigns are acceptable but not “fudging or abusing of data” to sway the electoral process. Earlier this year, US-based social networking giant Facebook and British firm Cambridge Analytica came under an intense scrutiny from users as well as governments across the globe after a data leak scandal hit about 87 million users.
Data analytics and political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, was accused of harvesting personal information of millions of Facebook users illegally to help political campaigns and influence polls in several countries, prompting Indian government to shoot off notices to both companies.
“Facebook has already apologised, and we are pursuing the matter with Cambridge Analytica,” the minister said. On the larger issue of data privacy – where a 10-member committee is deliberating on a new data protection law – Prasad said that while data must to be protected, India should also become a strong centre for data analysis.
“Let the final report of the committee come,” Prasad said declining to comment further on the matter. The committee headed by Justice B N Srikrishna (former judge of Supreme Court) was set up in August last year, and is on the verge to finalising its views. The panel is widely expected to submit its report this month.
The formation of the panel had come amid concerns over personal information being compromised with increasing use of biometric identifier Aadhaar in an array of services, as also data breach incidents in the private sector. The high-level panel, which draws its members from government, academia and industry, has been tasked with studying and identifying key data protection issues and recommending ways to address them.