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WHOSE DATA IS IT ANYWAY?

Razorpay “handed over” AltNews donor data to the Indian police

Man holds laptop computer as cyber code is projected on him in this illustration picture
Reuters/Kacper Pempel/Illustration
Was it a breach of privacy?
  • Ananya Bhattacharya
By Ananya Bhattacharya

Tech reporter

Published Last updated

A fintech firm’s handling of data privacy has become a point of contention in the Indian government’s crackdown on AltNews, a fake-news fighting platform.

AltNews has often busted claims made by functionaries and supporters of prime minister Narendra Modi’s government, along with those of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its affiliates, its sister organisations, and their many members.

On June 27, Mohammed Zubair, AltNews’ co-founder, was arrested for tweets posted in 2018. The move was condemned by both Indian and international outfits. Following his arraignment, questions were raised about the website’s funding sources. It was accused of accepting foreign funding, including from Pakistan and Syria.

Where were the authorities getting this information from? Apparently, fintech firm Razorpay.

Should Razorpay have shared AltNews donor data?

On July 5, Alt News claimed Razorpay had “handed over all our donor data to the police.” That, too, “without informing us, or without even a preliminary investigation of any violation on the part of AltNews,” the fact-checking platform said.

Hours later, Razorpay said in a statement that it was “fully abiding and compliant with all necessary laws and regulations of India.” It claimed to have “received a written order from the legal authorities under Section 91 CrPC.” This law is invoked whenever the court or a police officer “considers that the production of any document or other thing is necessary or desirable” for an investigation.

While Razorpay was apparently compelled by law, its move is also being viewed as a breach of data privacy.

Alt News is seeking alternatives to Razorpay

AltNews also shared that Razorpay had disabled its account based on the police’s request, only to re-enable it soon after. “(I)f Razorpay had indeed found that we had violated their terms of service, they wouldn’t have re-enabled our account.”

Razorpay admitted to blocking access “temporarily, as a safety precaution” and said it let AltNews’ account go live again following “clarity.” However, it did not elaborate on what that clarification was.

AltNews, meanwhile, has said it will continue to use Razorpay while it looks for alternatives.

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