Election Fraud: India Issues Legal Notice to Cambridge Analytica

Ravi Shankar Prasad - Technology and law minister of India. (file photo)
Ravi Shankar Prasad – Technology and law minister of India. (file photo)

Reference has been made to several accounts in the media reporting incidents of gross abuse of social media platform to influence the sanctity of polling process.

By Rakesh Raman

The Government of India today issued a formal statement about the misuse of Facebook data for election frauds in the country.

The government said in its communique that it is deeply concerned about such developments and is committed to ensure the protection of the fundamental right of privacy and safety and security of data for every citizen of India.

While the Government is cognizant of the positive role played by social media in promoting awareness and acting as a tool for social cohesion and empowerment; breach of privacy cannot be tolerated, the statement said.

In this regard it is pertinent to observe that the CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, has apologized for the mistakes his company had made in handling data belonging to its users, and has promised tougher steps to restrict access to such information.

It is reported that the British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica was secretly manipulating Facebook data of nearly 50 million users and selling it mainly to politicians to help them win elections.

Reports suggest that the firm’s data was used by U.S. President Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential race. Similarly, the Brexit campaign also used the stolen data.

On Wednesday, India’s Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi had blamed opposition party Congress for committing fraud in elections in connivance with Cambridge Analytica.

According to the Indian government statement released today, there are other downstream players such as Cambridge Analytica and its alleged associates who have been reported to be involved in the data breach.

The Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology, Government of India, has issued a notice in the first instance to Cambridge Analytica, wherein the serious breach of propriety and misuse of data intended to profile and influence voting behavior has been highlighted.

Reference has also been made to several accounts in the media reporting incidents of gross abuse of social media platform to influence the sanctity of polling process.

The statement adds that note has also been taken of alleged claims whereby elections in India were sought to be influenced through questionable means.

The government statement added that fairness of Indian democracy and electoral process is a matter of pride and any attempt to influence the sanctity of the electoral franchise through dubious and questionable means is unacceptable.

In particular, according to the statement, 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.

Emphasizing these issues, the notice addressed to Cambridge Analytica seeks immediate response to the following questions:

i) Whether they have been engaged in any assignment to utilize data of Indians from the above cited breach?

ii) Which are the entities that have engaged them for the above?

iii) How did they come to be in possession of such data?

iv) Was consent taken from the individuals?

v) How such data collected was used?

vi) Was there any profiling done on the basis of such data?

According to the government statement, the intermediaries cited above have been given time till 31st March 2018 to submit their responses on the above issues.

By Rakesh Raman, who is a national award-winning journalist and social activist. Besides working at senior editorial positions with leading media companies, he was writing an exclusive edit-page tech business column (named Technophile) regularly for The Financial Express (a daily business newspaper of The Indian Express Group).

Earlier, he had been associated with the United Nations (UN) through United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) as a digital media expert to help businesses use technology for brand marketing and business development. He also runs a free school for deserving children under his NGO – RMN Foundation.

Photo courtesy: Press Information Bureau

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