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PM in your DMs: Privacy, politics and digital governance

The recent circulation of a message purportedly originating from government channels through WhatsApp has ignited a flurry of concerns, particularly among recipients both within India and abroad. What is raising eyebrows is not just the content of the message, which lauds the achievements of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but also the manner in which it was disseminated. While it’s not uncommon for Indian citizens to receive alerts and updates from governmental bodies via SMS, the use of WhatsApp for such messaging, without a clear mechanism for obtaining consent, has sparked questions regarding data privacy and security.

What adds to the intrigue is the involvement of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) in accessing a vast database of WhatsApp numbers. The lack of transparency surrounding the acquisition of these contact lists raises pertinent questions about the safeguards in place to protect individuals’ privacy rights, especially considering the global reach of the messages.

Furthermore, the timing of this messaging campaign, just ahead of crucial elections, amplifies suspicions of political manoeuvring. The MCC explicitly prohibits the use of public funds for partisan advertisements and mandates the avoidance of partisan coverage of political news during election periods. By extending beyond national borders, the message’s reach raises concerns about the potential misuse of official channels for political gains, both domestically and internationally.

The Election Commission took the matter into its hands and instructed the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to cease the distribution of bulk WhatsApp messages as part of the “Viksit Bharat Sampark” program, following complaints received by the Commission.

As concerns mount, one cannot help but wonder: How exactly did the government gain access to such a vast database of WhatsApp numbers? Were proper protocols followed to ensure compliance with data protection regulations? What measures were taken to address privacy concerns, particularly among recipients outside of India? And most importantly, what are the implications of these actions for the integrity of electoral processes and the protection of individual privacy rights? As these questions linger, it becomes imperative to scrutinise the intersection of technology, governance and privacy in the digital age.

Source: Barandbench

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