New Delhi: The parliamentary committee on information technology questioned the government on Wednesday on its response to derogatory requests such as Bulli Bai and Sulli Deals, which targeted Muslim women; Pegasus; and the banning of Malayalam news channel MediaOne, people familiar with the matter told HT.
“It was an hour-long meeting, but despite time constraints, the panel sought responses from government officials regarding the issues,” a person familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity.
Officials from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and Home Affairs told the panel led by Congressman Shashi Tharoor that action in such cases is primarily taken by the state police.
The Bulli Bai app, which sparked a social media outcry last month for uploading photos of Muslim women for a mock “auction”, is hosted on code-sharing platform GitHub and is currently doing investigated by the Mumbai Police. The app itself was named after derogatory references to the Muslim community and came a year after a similar fiasco involving another targeted harassment app, Sulli Deals, made headlines.
Hundreds of Muslim women, including vocal activists and high-profile professionals, have been listed for “auctions” and their photographs doctored and obtained without permission. Although there were no real “auctions” or “sales”, the purpose of the app appeared to be to humiliate and intimidate the targeted women, many of whom are active social media users.
Meity officials also insisted that content on social media platforms must be constantly monitored by the platform itself as it is impractical for the ministry to continue to regulate it.
In response to a question regarding action taken in the Bulli Bai and Sulli Deals apps – both of which used photos of Muslim women for the purpose of auctioning them off – Vaishnaw informed the Rajya Sabha that immediate action had been taken. Vaishnaw said it was not about religion but about protecting women.
The government also informed the panel of a toll-free number where people can register cybercrime complaints, to which the panel asked if anyone had complained about Pegasus on the number.
Since a global investigative consortium reported last July that politicians, journalists and activists were potentially being targeted using Pegasus, the government has refused to clarify its position on whether the spyware had been bought. On January 28, The New York Times reported that Pegasus was part of a $2 billion equipment deal between India and Israel in 2017. The report prompted opposition parties to ask the Supreme Court, who set up a committee to look into the matter, to intervene again.
Home ministry officials told the panel that Malayalam news channel MediaOne’s license had not been renewed for national security reasons, sources familiar with the matter said. “The ministry declined to elaborate on the matter and said no national security explanation should be given,” a second person said.
The channel, controlled by the Jamat-e-Islami, ceased broadcasting on 31 January. The Kerala High Court on Tuesday upheld the ban saying the decision to block was based on credible information provided to the MHA.