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At Tharoor-led Parl Panel Meet, Twitter Officials Face Scrutiny over Blocking Amit Shah’s Account

By: Payal Mehta


Last Updated: January 21, 2021, 23:09 IST

New Delhi

Amit Shah's Twitter account was suspended for 30 minutes in November last year

Amit Shah's Twitter account was suspended for 30 minutes in November last year

Officials from the microblogging site explained that the action was taken after an algorithm flagged a copyright violation. The error, however, was rectified and the account was restored within 30 minutes, they told the panel.

At the meeting of a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology held in New Delhi on Thursday, representatives of Twitter and Facebook faced a barrage of pointed questions, including those for temporarily blocking Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s Twitter account in November last year.

The panel, led by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, met Facebook’s Public Policy Director Shivnath Thukral and Mahima Kaul, Public Policy Director, India & South Asia, Twitter, along with other officials from both platforms.

Sources said BJP MPs grilled Twitter representatives on the microblogging site’s decision to suspend Shah’s account for half an hour in November last year. Twitter explained the action was taken as per their policy after algorithms flagged a copyright issue. However, the matter was clarified and the account was restored within half an hour, they told the panel, according to sources.

When concerns were raised over monetising of data by the platforms, the social media giants are said to have clarified that even though a lion’s share of their revenue relies on advertising, at no point data of users is shared with advertisers.

Facebook officials also agreed to respond to the issue in writing. The written explanation will also deal with about 15 questions put forth by the IT Ministry on data safety of Indian citizens, said sources.

WhatsApp privacy policy debate

Members of the panel also flagged the issue of proposed changes in the privacy policy of WhatsApp. The social media giant clarified that the policy was not new, and in fact, had been in place since 2016. “It has been openly put out only now,” they told the panel, a source told CNN-News18.

The proposed changes had triggered an outcry regardless of WhatsApp’s assertion that all private messages between friends and family members remain end-to-end encrypted.

No messages on WhatsApp are saved on the server unless they are undelivered. Once delivered, they get deleted, the panel was informed on Thursday.

The Centre, too, has strongly advocated against the privacy policy update, adding that any unilateral changes to the WhatsApp Terms of Service and Privacy would not be fair and acceptable to India.

The issue of banning accounts for hate speech, like in the case of former US President Donald Trump, was also discussed. While some MPs welcomed the move, others called it an arbitrary decision saying that some accounts in India have not been banned despite similar violations.

Data Protection Bill

After nearly a year of thorough discussion spread over 65 meetings by the joint committee for Personal Data Protection Bill, the Data Protection Bill is all set to be passed in Parliament soon.

The bill, which was introduced as Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, in the Lok Sabha by Electronics and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in December that year, underwent parliamentary scrutiny upon insistence from members of the House. BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi chaired the Joint Parliamentary Committee set up to analyse its provisions.

The committee, which has been discussing the bill clause by clause since November 2019, will not seek a further extension and is currently working on its report. Over 158 hours and 45 minutes of meeting time has gone in to firm up the bill which has a whopping 89 amendments. Of these, 86 are in 46 clauses and two in the schedule, while one more clause has been added.

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first published:January 21, 2021, 22:54 IST
last updated:January 21, 2021, 23:09 IST