NEW DELHI: India on Wednesday warned Mark Zuckerberg - founder of the social media giant Facebook - against 'data theft' and said that he can be summoned if needed.
"Mr Mark Zuckerberg you better note the observation of the IT Minister of India. We welcome the FB profile in India, but if any data theft of Indians is done through the collusion of FB system, it shall not be tolerated. We have got stringent power in the IT Act, we shall use it, including summoning you in India," Union IT and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said.
Prasad said the Indian government fully supports freedom of press, speech and expression and is all for free exchange of ideas on social media. Any attempt by social media sites, including Facebook, to influence India's electoral process through undesirable means will, however, not be tolerated, he told reporters outside Parliament.
"Let me make it very, very clear. We fully support freedom of press, speech and expression; we fully support free exchange of ideas on social media. But any attempt, covert or overt, by social media, including Facebook, of trying to influence India's electoral process through undesirable means will neither be appreciated nor be tolerated," he said. "If need be, stringent action will be taken," Prasad added. He also said his government is looking at the issue as a matter of national security.
The warning to Facebook came even as a political slugfest continues between the ruling BJP and the Congress over allegations that the opposition party has engaged the services of British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica with an eye on the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. This also comes in context of the heat that Facebook is facing globally after Cambridge Analytica was accused of harvesting data of up to 50 million users without permission, and using the data to help politicians, including US President Donald Trump and the Brexit campaign. The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and British lawmakers have launched separate proves into the potential breach of user confidentiality by Facebook.
Pointing out that 20 crore Indians were using Facebook, making it the company's largest market outside of the US, Prasad cautioned the social media giant and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg of repercussions under IT Act in case of any data breach came to light.
Asked if the government would initiate a probe on data use by Facebook, Prasad said that India had a regulator in the form of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), and in case of any specific complaints, the same would be taken under a structured investigation. "We have got very robust mechanism available, we will look into it. But today, this very stern observation I gave that let my warning be heard across the Atlantic far away in California," he said.
Incidentally, this is not the first standoff between the Indian policymakers and Facebook. TRAI, in 2016, has issued regulations on discriminatory pricing over internet access that had led to ban of platforms like Facebook's Free Basics.
(With inputs from PTI)