Use tech to stop fake news, comply with Indian laws: Minister

New Delhi: Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Wednesday asked the social media platforms to use technology to curb fake news, comply with Indian laws and warned that abuse of Indian users’ data to influence elections will not be tolerated.

“India’s elections are very transparent and sanctified. Any foreign entity like Facebook or Cambridge Analytica cannot abuse the data of Indians to influence the elections in India,” the Minister for Law and Information Technology said in reply to a question in the Lok Sabha.

His remarks comes in the wake of mob lynchings across India due to circulation of false/fake messages on the social media and an earlier controversy revolving around UK political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica for alleged misuse of data on Indian Facebook users.

Prasad said that Facebook had since apologised to the Indian government, claiming that the data was pilfered by Cambridge Analytica who furnished only one reply but did not follow up.

Because of this divergence, the Minister said, “I have referred the matter to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for an inquiry into the alleged misuse of data by Cambridge Analytica.”

The Minister said that Facebook, in its response, had said that about 5.62 lakh Indians may have been potentially affected in the Cambridge Analytica case.

“All social media platforms must comply with Indian laws as well. They must ensure that any kind of fake news or abusive things cannot be circulated to result in crime in India; that will not be acceptable,” Prasad said.

He also said that the “origin of fake news should also be technologically answered” and that “all social media platforms must have Grievance Officers in India before whom complaints can be made”.

Prasad said that the government of India supported the freedom of the social media to articulate views, inform, enlighten and empower, but clarified that “any abuse of social media to promote terrorism/extremism will not be allowed and tough action will be taken.”

“I have conveyed to them in very clear terms that it does not need rocket science to identify lakhs of messages circulated on a particular day in a particular area in a particular state… they must find a technological solution,” he said.

The Minister said that the Indian government respects privacy, but “privacy with innovation and privacy not becoming a shield for terrorists and the corrupt” are the broad foundations we have laid down.

“Very soon, I am going to write to all the Chief Ministers. My Secretary will write to the state Chief Secretaries so that we also get feedback from the state governments. I assure you that whenever the Union Cabinet approves data protection law, before consultation are done in Parliament, I would like to have an elaborate debate here (in the public domain) so that we have a robust data protection law,” he said.