MPs seek virtual Parliamentary IT panel meetings due to COVID crisis

The committee discussed whether MPs could attend the upcoming monsoon session of Parliament online because of the pandemic, and the ban of 59 Chinese apps

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information and Technology is headed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor. Photo: Screengrab

The first meeting since the COVID-19 outbreak of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information and Technology, headed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, was held on Tuesday (July 15).

The committee discussed whether MPs could attend the upcoming monsoon session of Parliament online because of the pandemic, the ban of 59 Chinese apps, and the members’ keenness to know about the government’s contact-tracing app Aarogya Setu.

The monsoon session of Parliament is likely to begin after August 15.

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On whether the meeting could take place virtually, an official who wished to remain anonymous said to Hindustan Times, “We just need the go-ahead to conduct it. Parliament, in any case, is telecast live so it is not much of an issue.”

He added that, however, the standing committee members had to meet in person, since those were “confidential matters”.

On the other hand, Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien tweeted, “The Meeting of the Parliamentary Select Committee examining the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, has called a meeting on Friday (July 17). Amid these Covid-19 times, a three-day notice was given to members. A virtual presence is still not allowed. Strange methods are playing out in Parliament.”

However, the official mentioned above said the notification was sent out over a week ago.

Top officials of the ministries of Electronics and Information Technology and Home Affairs also briefed the panel on data security, sources said.

At the meeting, when an MP said even police officials were using Chinese apps, BJP MP Nishikant Dubey quipped that it would make China more cautious if they got “our criminals data”, according to the sources.

After the meeting was over, Tharoor took to Twitter and said, “The Parliamentary Standing Committee in Information Technology met on Tuesday. The eight MPs, who braved quarantine restrictions to attend, heard briefings from MeitY & the Union Ministry of Home Affairs on recent developments including the Aarogya Setu app and cybersecurity.”

He also said, “Due social distancing norms were observed and attendees came masked. This could well be the new normal for a long time to come. Still, it was a useful meeting, where serious questions were asked and constructive discussions took place.”

Eight members of Parliament, including Tharoor, the ruling BJP’s Tejaswi Surya, Rajyavardhan Rathore, Nishikant Dubey, Sanjay Seth, and Anil Aggarwal were present at the meeting. Officials from the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) also took part in the discussion.

The panel comprises 29 members, including 21 from the Lok Sabha (LS) and eight from the Rajya Sabha (RS).

The last meeting was held in March before the nationwide lockdown was enforced from March 25 to contain the spread of the virus.

The government on June 29 banned 59 Chinese apps, including TikTok, SHAREiT, and WeChat, terming them prejudicial to sovereignty, integrity, and national security.

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