Abhishek MalhotraApr 22, 2022 15:06:38 IST
Does this description appear to be an advertisement by an animation tutorial company? It certainly does. But when you are told that this was tweeted from the official Twitter handle of the UP Chief Minister’s Office — the account with more than 40 lakh followers — you are forced to take note of it.
This account was hacked on 9 April 2022 for almost half an hour, leading to such tweets from the CMO handle for those precious 30 minutes. The Punjab Congress’s official handle experienced a similar hack on 11 April 2022 which resulted in more than 100 tweets “being posted” within a few minutes. Some other high-profile accounts, such as that of the University Grant Commission, were also hacked on 10 April. Before that, the Indian Meteorological Department’s account was hacked… and the list goes on.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Twitter account and superstar Amitabh Bachchan’s handle — in December and June 2021 respectively — were hacked. Similarly, the handles of Anupam Kher, Rishi Kapoor and Shahid Kapoor were hacked. Internationally, Twitter handles of eminent personalities like Kanye West, Joe Biden, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos were hacked. This raises an obvious question on the existing security policies of Twitter. The platform has approximately 186 million users, so it is only proper that apprehensions regarding its security policy would and should be voiced.
How has the company reacted? In the past, it used to offer an apology, albeit an unconvincing one. It claimed that hackers tricked people and got access to the account credentials of the users. This was neither assuring nor did it provide any details of how and why it is done and with what purpose. Now, the company doesn’t even address the situation with even a clarification.
Some details have emerged from the investigative journalism of the website, Vice, whose journalists claimed to have access to the hackers. The revelations were shocking. Hackers boasted about bribing Twitter employees and consequently enabling the hack of the high-profile Twitter accounts.
Does this mean that Twitter has been compromised from within? Is this a pattern?
Undoubtedly, high-profile accounts/handles wield enormous influence on opinions/narratives. If such high-profile handles are being easily compromised, then the security measures for common accounts cannot be taken for granted. Twitter, like any other social media company, remains primarily a platform where content is generated by the user. Inconvenience to the user would naturally compel him/her to move elsewhere. It’s no wonder that many users are seeking alternatives.
Cyber experts often mention numerous technologies and enabling tools that protect the vital data, but the reluctance shown by Twitter to deploy the same is perplexing. The Indian government is contemplating enacting a comprehensive policy and law on data protection, earlier named the Personal Data Protection Bill, which was proposed by the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) in December last year.
While this has been on the cards for a while now, since it has some provisions on which there is currently no broad consensus, hence the Ministry of IT has recently proposed that it will soon issue a Data Protection Policy framework followed by the law, which will include aspects such as restrictions on the transfer of personal data outside India. It would ensure that the sensitive personal data will not be shared with any foreign government or agency unless approved by the Central government. This is also consistent with the Sprinklr case ruling by the Kerala High Court in May 2020. Along with it, a separate regulatory body will also be set up to regulate the data businesses.
The provisions of the proposed legislation would be similar to the global standards like that of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations. Both emphasise that users must be informed about the way their data would be processed and in case of any difference of opinion they can opt out. Even the Supreme Court of India in its landmark decision in the Puttaswamy judgement has clearly elevated privacy as a fundamental right of the individual, which is not only enforceable against the state but also at a private contract level. The ever-growing digital economy offers huge potential for economic growth, but in the absence of a secure data policy it would be tough to harness the potential that the digital economy has to offer. Twitter can show us and lead the way by just implementing the obvious: protect our data, ensure safety of its users. Else as they say, the market is brutal!
Democracies function on the general will of the people and this is aptly reflected in the legislature of the country. Targeting Twitter handles of the heads of the government (PM, CM, ministers) indicates that there is an attempt to compromise the voices of prominent Indian figures. It does not bode well if elected representatives are held hostage by the lax practices of a foreign social media company, which has been at crosshairs with regulators and the law. It appears as if the time is ripe for the growth of indigenous social media platforms.
The author is a practising lawyer and expert in Information Technology. He is an alumnus of NALSAR, Bangalore and Managing partner at TMT Law Practice.
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