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Home / India News / BJP, Congress fight over who leaked user data as privacy debate continues

BJP, Congress fight over who leaked user data as privacy debate continues

The Congress and the BJP once again locked horns on the issue of data sharing with party president Rahul Gandhi dubbing Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the “big boss who likes to spy on Indians.”

india Updated: Mar 26, 2018 23:16 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
New Delhi, Hindustan Times
Congress chief Rahul Gandhi.
Congress chief Rahul Gandhi. (PTI photo)

The political battle between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) shifted to a new theatre on Monday — smart apps — with each side accusing the other over issues such as user consent, data control, server location, and third-party services.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi kept up his attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal app, alleging he was acting like the “Big Boss” who likes to “spy on Indians” and misusing his official position to build a “personal database”. In turn, the BJP accused Gandhi of “technological illiteracy”, and said the Congress party’s own app shared data with “ideological bedfellows”.

The controversy broke out on Sunday when Gandhi picked a news report quoting a French security researcher, who identifies himself on Twitter as Elliot Alderson (a character from the Netflix show Mr Robot), to allege the personal data of users of the NaMo App was being sent to a third party domain. The BJP insisted that this was no breach, the data was used only for analytics, and not stored by third-party services.

But the privacy policy on the PM’s personal app was updated not long after Gandhi’s accusation. It had earlier read, “Your personal information and contact details shall remain confidential... the information shall not be provided to any third parties.”

The new policy states, “Certain information may be processed by third party services to offer you the most contextual content, show content in your language.”

On Monday morning, the debate took a turn, with the BJP making its own set of accusations against the Congress.

The BJP now picked up tweets from the same Elliot Alderson to allege that the server of the Congress app on Android was based in Singapore, and that membership data was not encrypted.

Soon after the allegation, the Congress removed its INC app. The BJP’s national information and technology in-charge, Amit Malviya asked, “Rahul Gandhi gave a call to #DeleteNamoApp but Congress deleted its own App from the AppStore after they were called out. What is the Congress hiding?”

His counterpart, the Congress’s social media and digital communications in-charge Divya Spandana said they had not had any membership on the app for the past five months. On the deletion of the app, she said: “The BJP and some journalists started circulating the fake and defunct url and misleading the people into believing that there was a breach of data, and we were giving out the information to our friends in Singapore. That is why we have to remove it.”

The BJP also pointed to the Congress’s privacy policy and alleged the party did not guarantee the safety of personal information and said it would share it with “vendors, consultants or other service providers”. Malviya said, “When Congress says it will share your data with other like-minded groups, the implications are grave.”

The charges were rebutted by Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who said it was the National Democratic Alliance government that was “mocking the right to privacy”.

Earlier on Tuesday, Gandhi made two specific allegations. He first tweeted, “Modi’s Namo App secretly records audio, video, contacts of your friends and family and even tracks your location via GPS. He is the big boss who likes to spy on Indians. Now he wants data on our own children. 13 lakh NCC cadets are being forced to download the app.”

The BJP’s spokesperson Sambit Patra claimed this showed Gandhi as “technologically illiterate”, and there was a difference between analysis and snooping.

Gandhi also alleged that Modi was using his position as prime minister to “build a personal database with data on millions of Indians via the Namo App promoted by government”. He should, the Congress president said, use the official PMO app instead. “This data belongs to India, not Modi.”

A BJP functionary rebutted Gandhi and said that the PM’s personal app was entirely different from the official app. “Not a single penny of government funds go into the Namo App. The PM is extremely careful in all his digital properties to distinguish between the personal and official.”

As the debate over mobile apps and its political use intensified, experts argued that India lacked the legislative framework to seal with it. Pavan Duggal, a cyber security lawyer, said, “India does not have a dedicated legal framework to govern mobile applications. This entire episode is a wake-up call to protect consumers of mobile app service providers, given India does not have a dedicated privacy law.”

The two parties had last week accused each other of using the services of Cambridge Analytica, which has been in the eye of the storm for allegedly mining the data of millions of Facebook users and using it to influence elections in other countries, including the US.