IT Parliamentary panel discusses WhatsApp privacy policy, Trump ban

Siddhant Pandey
·3-min read

IT Parliamentary panel discusses WhatsApp privacy policy, Trump ban
IT Parliamentary panel discusses WhatsApp privacy policy, Trump ban

22 Jan 2021: IT Parliamentary panel discusses WhatsApp privacy policy, Trump ban

The standing committee of the Parliament on Information Technology grilled officials of Facebook and Twitter at a meeting on Thursday over their views on the prevention of misuse of online platforms.

The panel reportedly addressed the divisive social media ban of former United States President Donald Trump, and Facebook-owned WhatsApp's controversial privacy policy, which has since been deferred.

Here's what happened at the meeting.

Meeting: Tharoor-led panel held meeting for three hours

The meeting of the panel, led by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, had gone on for roughly three hours.

WhatsApp was represented by its Public Policy Director in India, Shivnath Thukral, while Facebook was represented by its Associate General Counsel Saanjh Purohit.

Twitter's Director in India Mahima Kaul and legal counsel for India, Ayushi Kapoor, represented the micro-blogging site.

Fact: Who all participated in panel meeting?

Apart from Tharoor, BJP MPs Nishikant Dubey, Tejasvi Surya, Anil Agrawal, Raksha Nikhil Khadse, Suresh Gopi, Syed Zafar Islam, Sanjay Seth, Samajwadi Party MP Santosh Pandey, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) MP Gaddam Ranjith Reddy, and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) MP Jayadev Galla were also present.

Trump ban: Panel discussed whether banning Trump was justified

Multiple sources informed Forbes India that both Facebook and Twitter officials asserted it was necessary to suspend Trump's social media accounts considering the threat to national security in light of the January 6 US Capitol insurrection.

Concerns were also raised about the differing reactions worldwide—accounts threatening violence are more readily suspended in the US compared to countries like India.

Fact: Intermediary Guidelines under IT Act immediately required: MPs

Reportedly, the MPs unanimously agreed that the amended Intermediary Guidelines under the Information Technology Act are required urgently. The IT Ministry had informed the Supreme Court last October that the guidelines would be notified by January 15, 2021, but they are yet to be declared.

WhatsApp: MP asks if WhatsApp has access to his calls/messages

The IT Ministry had reportedly sent 14 questions to Facebook/WhatsApp over the updated privacy policy.

Facebook said it would send its responses to the questions raised in writing.

At least one MP was reported to have asked WhatsApp if the company had access to his calls/messages, but the messaging platform said it did not since the calls/messages are end-to-end encrypted.

Fact: Panel members reportedly dissatisfied with Facebook, WhatsApp's responses.

Forbes reported that panel members were dissatisfied with Facebook and WhatsApp's responses. The members also discussed the need for the Personal Data Protection Bill, arguing that WhatsApp could have been prevented from updating its privacy policy had the bill been in effect.

Twitter: Twitter questioned over removing Amit Shah's picture

BJP MP Nishikant Dubey reportedly questioned Twitter for temporarily removing Home Minister Amit Shah's profile picture in November 2020.

Twitter said the picture was removed automatically due to a report from a copyright holder.

Discussions were also centered on the steps taken by Twitter to prevent doxing—the publishing of people's private or identifying information online—of women on its platform.

Also see: NewsBytes Briefing: Big Tech goes on trial today, and more
Soon, government could ask Facebook/Twitter to reveal anyone's identity
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