Personal data protection: Amazon not to appear before House panel

The US e-commerce giant said, its "subject matter experts are overseas" and cited travel risks for their inability to appear in person. Panel head Meenakshi Lekhi has warned the company of “coercive action”

Amazon has termed the Delhi HC’s March 22 order as illegal. Photo: PTI

Amazon has refused to appear before a joint parliament committee, which is looking into the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, the NDTV reported on Friday.

If the US e-commerce giant does not appear before the panel on October 28, “coercive action will be initiated” against Amazon, sources said. In response, Amazon said, its “subject matter experts are overseas” and cited travel risks for their inability to appear in person.

On the Congress’ demand, the joint parliament committee had called all stakeholders, including Facebook and Twitter, to get an overview of their functioning in the context of the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019.

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“Amazon has refused to appear before the panel on October 28 and if no one on behalf of the e-commerce company appears before the panel it amounts to breach of privilege,” BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi, who heads the panel, told news agency PTI.

Top Facebook India officials were questioned for nearly two hours by the parliamentary panel on Friday. Facebook India was represented by its policy chief Ankhi Das and its business head Ajit Mohan.

The Twitter officials will appear before the panel on October 28, as per a notice issued by the Lok Sabha Secretariat. Google and PayTM have been asked to appear before the panel on October 29.

Also see: Why are parliamentary select committees necessary?

Union minister for information technology Ravi Shankar Prasad had introduced the draft Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, in parliament last year. The bill, after it becomes the law, will empower the government to ask companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google etc for anonymous personal and non-personal information. Congress had flagged security concerns, especially where regards to national interests.

Some legal experts too had raised objections, saying the law will give the government unaccounted access to personal data of users. The matter was subsequently referred to the joint parliamentary committee headed by Lekhi.

Also read: Ambiguities haunt Personal Data Protection Bill

Earlier in the day, Facebook executive Ankhi Das, whose name was doing the rounds in a controversy over alleged bias by the social networking giant in dealing with hate speeches, was questioned for two hours by a parliamentary panel.

The parliamentary panel told Facebook that it could not use personal data of citizens for any kind of “inferential” purposes in advertising or business or elections.

About the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019

On December 4, 2019, the Cabinet approved the introduction of the Personal Data Protection Bill in Parliament. The draft bill, the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2018, was prepared by a high-level expert committee headed by former Supreme Court judge B.N. Srikrishna. The Bill deals with the broad guidelines on the collection, storage, and processing of personal data, the consent of individuals, penalties and compensation, and a code of conduct. The draft Bill classifies ‘sensitive personal data’ as including passwords, financial data, health data, sex life, sexual orientation, biometric data, genetic data, transgender status, intersex status, caste or tribe, and religious or political belief or affiliation.

The draft Bill says that such sensitive personal data can be processed only with the explicit consent of the person, and this consent needs to be informed, clear, and specific, as defined by the Bill itself.

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