India

"To Set The Record Straight": Amazon Explains Parliament No-Show

Hours after sources told that Amazon had refused to appear before a joint parliamentary committee looking into the Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill - and could, therefore, face "coercive action" and a "breach of privilege" notice - the online retail giant said its position "may have been misconstrued" and that it would work with the committee to "set the record straight".

According to sources Amazon had begged off from appearing before the committee on October 28 because its "subject matter experts" were overseas and unable to travel to India because of risks associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

"The inability of our experts to travel from overseas due to travel restriction and depose before the joint parliamentary committee (JPC) during the ongoing pandemic may have been misconstrued and led to a misunderstanding," the company said in a statement released Friday night.

"We will work with the JPC to set the record straight," the company said, adding, "We have the utmost respect and regard for the important work being done by the joint parliamentary committee (JPC) on the PDP bill and have already offered written submissions for consideration of this august committee. We will continue to engage in any way the JPC considers fit."

The committee, which is headed by BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi, is looking into the PDP bill, following concerns expressed by the opposition Congress. All stakeholders, including Facebook and Twitter, had been summoned to provide an overview.

Facebook India officials, led by policy head Ankhi Das, appeared before the JPC today and were questioned for nearly two hours, sources said.

Ms Das, whose name came up in a recent controversy over alleged bias by the social networking giant in dealing with hate speeches, was quizzed on data protection. The social media giant was old it could not use personal data for "inferential" purposes in advertising or business or elections.

Twitter is to appear on October 28.

While introducing the draft bill in parliament last year, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said it empowers the government to ask companies like Facebook and Google for anonymous personal and non-personal data.

The Congress flagged worries on the misuse of data in some cases, especially where national security is involved. A section of legal experts, meanwhile, said the proposed law could give the government unaccounted access to the personal data of users.