Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur)

‘India won’t compromise its digital sovereignt­y’


In an interview to

Union minister for communicat­ions, electronic­s and informatio­n and technology Ravi Shankar Prasad says the guidelines framed for social media companies in the Informatio­n Technology (Intermedia­ry Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, are aimed at preventing abuse and misuse of social media and will not affect users. Edited excerpts: those grievances must be addressed in 15 days’ time. You have to give a monthly report that grievances have been addressed. Secondly, have a compliance officer to deal with the rules and regulation­s, and third, for nodal contact with the government, there must be a person. Are we asking for the moon? There are more than hundred crore users of social media in India; it did not happen suddenly, there was demand from civil society there were two Supreme Court judgments in 2018 and the Facebook case of 2019, where the Supreme Court spoke about how some messages can incite violence or be a threat to the sovereignt­y of the country; paedophile­s use it in a big way. In such circumstan­ces, it is imperative that there is a properly framed regime to find out the person and institutio­nal bodies who are the originator­s of such content. They have to disclose who began the mischief and if it has come from across the border, who lapped it up in India. Can we deny that last year, during the riot in Delhi, many explosive messages came from across the border?

This will be done only and only when other less intrusive methods have not worked. There is a reasonable classifica­tion that it is for the public good for the safety and security of India, and dignity of women and against child sexual abuse.

The problem of technology is answered by technology. Cambridge Analytical obtained data from Facebook of five lakh Indians. In their recent privacy policy, they say we shall share data on Whatsapp with other business associates including Facebook, so where is privacy?

Let us disabuse ourselves of this notion of privacy. We appreciate the judgment of Supreme Court on privacy. But in the same judgment, the court observed that a terrorist or a corrupt or a criminal do not have the right of privacy otherwise there will be no investigat­ion.

Second, what a person eats is a personal choice, but if you go to a restaurant, the bill will be digital. They know what you ate. Where you travel is a personal choice but if you go by a plane, tickets will be digital, they will know you travelled on a particular date. Privacy, in my considered view, is something that relates to individual identity — your matrimonia­l informatio­n, your sexual preference­s, your medical records and your health records and the privacy right of a minor and maybe if you’re not a public servant then your income. These are the privacy rights, and they must be safeguarde­d.

It is absolutely false. First, in these guidelines, the government is out, you (companies) have to appoint a grievance officer. The victim of abuse will relate to the social media company, not the government. If a woman’s dignity is being robbed, she will ask Whatsapp who started it and if you (companies) do not (help) then the security establishm­ent will help her. The larger narrative, however, is when you blocked the Twitter accounts of many who invaded the Capitol Hill in Washington, including that of a former president, that’s your call. How is it that when at the Red Fort, in the wake of the farmers’ agitation, content related to terrorist supporters and sword wielding people was pushed out… this is double standard.

You show a part of Ladakh as a part of China and we have to labour for a fortnight to get it removed, why?

When Singapore protested why is it called the Singaporea­n variant they removed it immediatel­y, but here in India we have to labour for a week to remove the tags India variant and Modi variant. Earn good money, do good business, but you will have to learn to respect the laws of India. India will not compromise its digital sovereignt­y.

I understand they have already restored it but I will not go into that issue except to make this observatio­n— Twitter is welcome to do business in India but learn to respect the constituti­onal authority.

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