Data commerce cannot be used to influence India’s elections: Ravi Shankar Prasad

New Delhi: The government on Thursday warned online companies involved in the business of data commerce not to use collusive methods to influence India’s elections.

“The data must be available but anonymous. All the online companies who are in the business of data privacy or data commerce must understand these nuances,” Electronics and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said in his address at the 15th Asia Media Summit.

“India cannot be the centre of date pilferage. We are strong believers in the freedom of elections and data commerce through collusive methods cannot be used to influence India’s elections,” he said.

Giving an example, Prasad said he had taken a firm stand when the Facebook and data mining firm Cambridge Analytica’s data breach issue came up last month.

Cambridge Analytica has been accused of harvesting personal information of over 50 million Facebook users illegally to influence polls in several countries.

The IT Minister supported the freedom of press and its prosperity in open society but raised questions over the ethics of journalism and the accountability of media.

He said freedom of press is integral to our polity and that a free media can prosper only in an open society, but accountability of media is integral to society.

“The ethical journalism in my view is that it should be fair, true and should present both sides properly. Media of today in the garb of sensationalism, paid news, fake news, too much of unravelling insidious practices seem to duck larger issues,” Prasad said.

He said the government did not want to interfere but those who firmly believe in the freedom of media and insist upon their rights also need to understand that there was something like accountability also. “Ethical journalism flows from those abiding values.”

About the benefit of digitalisation, the Minister said we have got 1.20 billion Aadhaar cards, the “digital identity to supplement the physical identity.

“We opened over 300 million bank accounts for poor and linked it to Aadhaar. Now, we have started sending funds directly to the bank accounts of poor of various entitlement. And, we have saved ₹83,000 crore, close to 10 billion dollars, which used to be pocketed by middlemen and fictitious elements.”