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    Former RSS ideologue Govindacharya seeks Parliamentary probe into workings of Facebook India

    Synopsis

    Govindacharya has also asked Parliament to summon the chief executives of technology giants, like how the US Congress recently summoned CEOs of Amazon Inc, Apple Inc, Alphabet Inc – the parent entity of Google - and Facebook to question them on various antitrust issues.

    In a letter to the chairmen of five Parliamentary Standing Committees, Govindacharya asked for a JPC investigation into the past Cambridge Analytica–Facebook case.
    New Delhi: Former RSS ideologue KN Govindacharya has sought a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the workings of Facebook India, following allegations that the US-based social media giant had favoured the ruling BJP by not acting on hate speech posts by its leaders.

    Govindacharya has also asked Parliament to summon the chief executives of technology giants, like how the US Congress recently summoned CEOs of Amazon Inc, Apple Inc, Alphabet Inc – the parent entity of Google - and Facebook to question them on various antitrust issues.

    In a letter to the chairmen of five Parliamentary Standing Committees, including Home, Law and Justice, IT, Finance and PDP Bill, Govindacharya also asked for a JPC investigation into the past Cambridge Analytica–Facebook case, where allegations of rigging elections in the United States and India were made against the social media company.

    The letter has also been sent to Vice President Venkaiah Naidu, who is the chairman of the Rajya Sabha, as well as Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla.

    The letter questioned the government for its lack of action on Facebook and other technology giants after the Cambridge Analytica expose established that Indian elections could have been wrongfully influenced.

    “…That was not the only instance. As per Edward Snowden disclosures, 9 American Internet Companies shared more than 6 billion data of Indians with US Intelligence Agencies under operation PRISM. There are many more such reports demonstrating interference of Tech Giants with Indian elections and democracy. All such issues need detailed inquiry and investigation by a Joint Parliamentary Committee,” according to the letter.

    ET has reviewed a copy of the letter.

    “We prohibit hate speech and content that incites violence and we enforce these policies globally without regard to anyone’s political position or party affiliation. While we know there is more to do, we're making progress on enforcement and conduct regular audits of our process to ensure fairness and accuracy,” a spokesperson for Facebook said in a statement.

    The letter has also called out the delay in passing the Personal Data Protection Bill, three years after the Supreme Court upheld an individual’s right to privacy.

    The government has also not finalised the Draft Intermediary Rules, 2018, despite telling the Supreme Court that it would be enforced by January 2020.

    “Due to Covid-19 pandemic, India is going through big lockdown. When all the conventional sectors are going down, the valuation of digital companies is growing exponentially. This is happening due to laissez faire (free enterprise) regime and non-enforcement of rules on these companies, which needs urgent intervention of the Indian Parliament,” it said.

    The letter has also highlighted the issue of tech companies not paying enough taxes in the country and having unhindered access to citizen’s data.

    "This episode reflects a big legal paradox in operations of tech giants. If these companies claim immunity and exemptions of 'Intermediary' then how are they doing large scale moderation and removal of content without any formal court order. Active involvement of Facebook Indian officials in removal of content further reflects wrong claims of legal exemptions before police and Indian Courts," said Virag Gupta, the legal counsel of Govindacharya.

    Meanwhile, the Indian Freedom Foundation (IFF) and several other privacy activists are also seeking a detailed probe in the matter.

    The IFF has written to the Parliamentary Committee on Information Technology for urgent steps, including issuing summons to Facebook’s top global executives, extensive hearings and an international human rights audit leading to reparations for victims, it said in a post.

    “Facebook has close to 300 million users in India and is its largest global market. It has massive reach, economic and social power to cause impact. While such social networks facilitate and further the ability for users to avail their rights to free expression which is a goal to be protected, we are often confronted with harms caused by them. This requires systemic fixes and actual accountability to be fixed in a manner which is transparent, proportional and certain,” it said.
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