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Prasad cautions social media firms on platform misuse; will prioritise Data Protection Bill

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IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has sent a strong message to social media firms asking them to maintain constitutional sanctity and remain vigilant against any misuse of their platforms for acts of terrorism and communalism. The minister, soon after assuming the charge of IT Ministry, said the data protection bill will be high on priority but did not specify whether it will be taken up in the upcoming Parliament session.

The first session of the newly-elected Lok Sabha has been convened from June 17 to July 26. Sources said that a political view could be driven on the draft data protection law.

Starting his second innings as Electronics and IT Minister, Prasad outlined his priorities for his ministry that included setting up one lakh digital villages, establishment of national data grid, start-up hub, driving digital literacy, and accelerating the growth of digital payments with the support of home-grown technologies.

The minister said that ‘Aadhaar Seva Kendras’, conceptualised on the lines of Passport Seva Kendras, will be opened in 10 cities soon.

Prasad, known for taking a firm stance on social media misuse in the past, acknowledged the role of social media platforms in promoting free expression but reminded the players that they must respect constitutional sanctity of free speech.

“Platforms should not be allowed to be used for terrorism, extremism and communalism…these are well known issues…We all respect freedom of speech and expression that is sacrosanct for us and part of the constitutional guarantee, but that is also subject to reasonable restriction,” the minister said.

The IT Ministry, last year, began work on tightening rules for social media and online companies, for which it held wide public consultations.

“The expansion of social media platforms is welcome but use of social media for terrorism, extremist ideas, or to break the country, will not be allowed. If a platform is misused for such purposes, it will be unfortunate and suitable action will be taken,” the Minister warned.

Circulation of fake news on digital platforms has been a pain point, and the government has warned social media companies that any misuse of the platforms will not be tolerated. Even during the recent elections, social media giants like Facebook and Google had stepped up election integrity efforts, inducing transparency in political ads, roping in an army of fact checkers and commissioning tools to weed out content that is flagged to be false.

The draft amendments to the IT rules, being crafted by the ministry, talk of mandating social media companies to enable tracing of originators of information when required by government agencies which are legally authorised. However, the draft had previously spurred protests from social activists and opposition parties which argued that it would violate privacy of individuals and thwart free speech.

Meanwhile, Prasad vowed that IT Department in coordination with other Government Departments will lead the second generation digital push in India, and also spoke of driving greater synergies between two Ministries under his charge – Communications and IT.

Prasad said the IT Ministry also work on a mobile-based advisory services for animal husbandry and fisheries.

Earlier in the day, Prasad also assumed the charge at Department of Post and said boosting eCommerce parcel delivery and financial inclusion using network of India Post will be area of high priority.

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