E-commerce giant Amazon on Friday refused to appear before a joint parliamentary committee to discuss data protection and privacy, PTI reported.

Amazon was summoned by the committee to discuss the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, on October 28. The committee is headed by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Meenakshi Lekhi.

The committee had also asked Facebook officials to appear before it on Friday. Twitter representatives will appear before the committee on October 28, according to a notice from the Lok Sabha Secretariat.

Amazon however said its “subject matter experts are overseas”, and cited travel risks to India as a reason not to appear before the committee, NDTV reported.

Lekhi had told PTI on Thursday that the panel’s summons to social platforms must not be seen as a political move. “It would be inappropriate and unfair to look at the calling of social media platform from the political prism,” she said. “The committee has representatives from across the political spectrum and the deliberations on the bill are being held from the national interest perspective.”

She added: “Whosoever is required, whether an individual or an entity, will be asked to depose before the panel on the issue of protection of data and its privacy and their respective social media platforms will be thoroughly examined by the panel.”

Lekhi called Amazon’s refusal to appear before the committee a breach of privilege, PTI reported. “Amazon has refused to appear before the panel on October 28 and if no one on behalf of the e-commerce company appears before the panel it amounts to breach of privilege,” she told the news agency. Lekhi said the panel is unanimous in its opinion that coercive action can be suggested to the government against the e-commerce giant.

On Thursday, the Lekhi-led panel had met the Forum For Integrated Security in Mumbai, NDTV reported. The organisation describes itself as a policy research institution.

Earlier in the day, the Centre had also written a stern letter to Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey after the social media platform’s location settings showed Leh as a part of China. The government told Twitter that disrespecting India’s sovereignty and integrity was unacceptable and unlawful.

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In September, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology chaired by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor had questioned Facebook India’s Vice President and Managing Director Ajit Mohan, amid a controversy over the platform’s alleged inaction on hate posts by certain BJP leaders.

Facebook came under intense scrutiny after a report published in the Wall Street Journal on August 14 said that Facebook’s India policy head Ankhi Das had opposed removing incendiary posts by BJP leaders. A memo by a data scientist who was fired from Facebook Inc had also revealed that the social media company ignored or was slow to deal with fake accounts that have affected elections around the world.

The social media platform had denied the accusations. “We prohibit hate speech and content that incites violence and we enforce these policies globally without regard to anyone’s political position or party affiliation,” it said in a statement on August 17. “While we know there is more to do, we are making progress on enforcement and conduct regular audits of our process to ensure fairness and accuracy.”

Ankhi Das appeared before the panel on Friday. The representatives of Facebook India were asked some “tough and searching questions”, PTI said, quoting unidentified officials. During the meeting, a member of the panel suggested that Facebook should not draw inferences from the data of its users for commercial benefit of its advertisers.

The Personal Data Protection Bill

The Union Cabinet had in December approved the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, which proposes a framework for handling of private data by public and private entities.

In July 2018, a committee headed by retired Justice BN Srikrishna had submitted its report to the Centre on suggestions for a data protection law. The 213-page report made recommendations on several topics, including consent, data protection authority, right to recall data and rights of children.

The report also said that a law on the matter would have jurisdiction over the processing of personal data if it has been used, shared, disclosed, collected or otherwise processed in India.

Legal experts had argued that the bill will give the government access to personal data of users, according to NDTV. The matter was then referred to the committee led by Lekhi.