Cracking the whip on alleged misuse of user data on Facebook, the government on Friday issued a notice to UK-based Cambridge Analytica, asking it to give a list of clients and the source of data it had collected.
The notice came after reports that political parties had used the data analytics firm during elections.
The IT Ministry has asked Cambridge Analytica - the firm at the centre of Facebook data breach scandal - to respond by March 31 on six questions, including how the company had collected user data, whether consent was taken from the individuals, and how the data was used.
The move assumes significance as the BJP, earlier this week, had questioned links between the Congress and Cambridge Analytica, the data mining firm accused of harvesting personal information from Facebook illegally to influence polls in several countries.
Taking a stern view of reports on the misuse of user data obtained from social media platform Facebook, the IT Ministry in a statement today said that "breach of privacy cannot be tolerated".
"The government is deeply concerned about such developments and is committed to ensuring the protection of the fundamental right of privacy and safety and security of data for every citizen of India," the ministry said.
The IT Ministry said it had issued a notice to Cambridge Analytica "wherein the serious breach of propriety and misuse of data intended to profile and influence voting behaviour has been highlighted".
The notice comes just days after Law and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad warned the social media giant Facebook of stringent action for any attempt to influence polls through data theft. Prasad had even threatened to summon its CEO Mark Zuckerberg, if needed.
"...the notice addressed to Cambridge Analytica seeks an immediate response to the following questions...Whether they have been engaged in any assignment to utilise data of Indians from the above-cited breach. Who are the entities that have engaged them for the above," it said.
The ministry also questioned the company on how it had come to be in possession of user data and whether user consent had been taken for the same. The company has also been asked to divulge details of how the data collected was used and whether any profiling was done on basis of such data.
"The intermediaries cited above have been given time till March 31, 2018, to submit their responses on the above issue," the ministry said.
Referring to media reports of "gross abuse of social media platform to influence the sanctity of polling process", the ministry said, "any attempt to influence the sanctity of the electoral franchise through dubious and questionable means is unacceptable".
"In particular, all intermediaries and their associates have the legal obligation to maintain security, confidentiality and sanctity of data and any unauthorized use of data can entail legal action," it warned.
The statement said that Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) has issued advisory laying down security best practices to be followed by social media users, to safeguard personally identifiable information on social network sites.