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The ministry of electronics and information technology on Friday issued a notice to London-based analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, seeking response on issues related to data of Indians collected by the firm or its intermediaries or associates.The notice comes amid reports that political parties had used the data analytics firm during elections.
The IT Ministry has asked Cambridge Analytica – the firm at the centre of Facebook data breach scandal – to respond by March 31 on six questions. The questions include how the company had collected user data, whether consent was taken from the individuals, and how the data was used.
The government has sent six questions to the company and have sought responses by 31 March, failing which it may entail legal action, ministry said in a statement.The move assumes significance as the BJP, earlier this week, had questioned links between the Congress and Cambridge Analytica, the data mining firm accused of harvesting personal information from Facebook illegally to influence polls in several countries.
On Wednesday, Union Law and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad warned the social media giant Facebook of stringent action for any attempt to influence polls through data theft. Prasad had even threatened to summon its CEO Mark Zuckerberg, if needed.
Cambridge Analytica is at the centre of the Facebook data breach controversy where data of 50 million users in the US was compromised to benefit Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016.
The IT ministry notice seeks clarity from Cambridge Analytica whether it engaged in any assignment to utilize data of Indians in regards to the breach. The government has also sought the details of the entities who have engaged the firm for any intention to profile and influence voting behaviour.
Taking a stern view of reports on the misuse of user data obtained from social media platform Facebook, the IT Ministry in a statement said, “breach of privacy cannot be tolerated.”
“The government is deeply concerned about such developments and is committed to ensuring the protection of the fundamental right of privacy and safety and security of data for every citizen of India,” the ministry added.
The IT Ministry said it had issued a notice to Cambridge Analytica “wherein the serious breach of propriety and misuse of data intended to profile and influence voting behaviour has been highlighted”.
“…The notice addressed to Cambridge Analytica seeks an immediate response to the following questions…Whether they have been engaged in any assignment to utilise data of Indians from the above-cited breach. Who are the entities that have engaged them for the above,” it said.
The ministry also questioned the company on how it had come to be in possession of user data and whether user consent had been taken for the same. The company has also been asked to divulge details of how the data collected was used and whether any profiling was done on basis of such data.
“The intermediaries cited above have been given time till March 31, 2018, to submit their responses on the above issue,” the ministry said.
Referring to media reports of “gross abuse of social media platform to influence the sanctity of polling process”, the ministry said, “any attempt to influence the sanctity of the electoral franchise through dubious and questionable means is unacceptable”.
“In particular, all intermediaries and their associates have the legal obligation to maintain security, confidentiality and sanctity of data and any unauthorized use of data can entail legal action,” it warned.
The statement said that Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) has issued advisory laying down security best practices to be followed by social media users, to safeguard personally identifiable information on social network sites.
On Wednesday, IT and law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had accused the Congress of indulging in “theft of online data” to help with its election campaigns. He had also warned Facebook of stringent legal action if it was found misusing data on Indians.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi, in turn, targeted the BJP-led union government saying that the party has “invented story on Congress and data theft” to deflect attention from the controversy over 39 Indians who died in Iraq.
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