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Congress targets Modi govt over report on 'jail threat’ to social media giants

WSJ said threats mark an escalation of India’s efforts to pressure tech companies

whatsapp reuters Representational image | Reuters

A report by The Wall Street Journal on Friday has caused a stir in Indian politics. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Indian government was threatening to "jail" employees of WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook to force these companies to part with user data.

The Wall Street Journal reported, "The warnings are in direct response to the tech companies’ reluctance to comply with data and takedown requests from the government related to protests by Indian farmers that have made international headlines, the people say. At least some of the written warnings cite specific, India-based employees at risk of arrest if the companies don’t comply..."

The Wall Street Journal added, "The threats mark an escalation of India’s efforts to pressure U.S. tech companies at a moment when those companies are looking to the world’s second-most-populous nation for growth in the coming years."

WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook responded to the report. A WhatsApp spokesman said the company complies with data requests that are “consistent with internationally recognized standards including human rights, due process, and the rule of law.” A Facebook spokesman said the company “responds to government requests for data in accordance with applicable law and our terms of service”.

Twitter “will continue to advocate for the fundamental principles of the Open Internet,” a company spokesman said, adding, “Threats to these principles are on the rise around the world, which is of deep concern.”

The issue of access of data of social media companies has been in the headlines since the farmers' protests attracted international attention.

Not surprisingly, the Congress used the report to target the Narendra Modi government. Congress Lok Sabha MP Manish Tewari referred to both The Wall Street Journal report as well as a report by NGO Freedom House that claimed India was now only "partly free". Tewari tweeted, "First @freedomhouse report & now @WSJ. High time NDA/BJP woke up and smelt the coffee. This publicity is not good for attracting Foreign Direct Investment. Moreover @JoeBiden‘s Adminstration is not Abki Baar Trump Sarkar."

Congress Rajya Sabha MP Digvijaya Singh tweeted, "Downfall of all Tyrants begins with such desperate reactions. They would now go more offensive."

Interestingly, Pakistan's minister for human rights Shireen Mazari referred to the report from the point of view of accountability of social media companies. Mazari referred to Australia's standoff with Facebook and Google. Mazari tweeted, "After Australian govt passed law viz payment over news content used by fb & Google, agreement reached btwn them. Now India flexes its muscle viz social media platforms! Waiting to see compromises that will be made!"

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