The testimony of Facebook whistleblower Sophie Zhang to a parliamentary standing committee on IT is unlikely to happen, as she has yet to receive consent from the office of Lok Sabha Chairman Om Birla to allow Zhang to testify. Zhang no longer expects the approval to be returned, she told The Indian Express.
On November 1, 2021, Congressman Shashi Tharoor, who chairs the parliamentary standing committee on communications and information and technology, said in a tweet that he had sought permission from the president to allow the deposition. from Zhang. Parliamentary rules require that testimony from a foreign national be subject to the approval of the Speaker. “I don’t expect the President to give his consent at this stage. It’s been 13 months since I came out publicly, and 6 months since the Lok Sabha (IT Standing Committee) voted unanimously to invite me. That’s more than enough time for anyone to just answer yes or no,” Zhang told The Indian Express.
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Zhang was a data scientist at Facebook between 2018 and 2020, and during her time with the company, she was able to track down fake accounts run by political parties around the world that were operated by individuals paid solely to support the popularity of political leaders and their parties. In India, she found five such different networks – two of them belonged to the Bharatiya Janata Party, two to the Indian National Congress and one belonged to the Aam Aadmi Party.
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Zhang had shared his findings with Tharoor, which were also circulated among the other computer panel members.
Zhang said Birla “refused” to answer questions about her pending deposition. “At the end of the day, the only person who can tell you what the President thinks is the Honorable President himself. But as far as I know, he refused to respond to LS, reporters, myself, or anyone really on the matter. It’s like he was hoping that by burying his head in the sand he could make the questions go away,” she said.
“When one refuses to respond when one has more than enough time and opportunity to do so, it becomes necessary to interpret one’s lack of response as a response in itself,” she added. Lok Sabha secretariat sources said it was the chairman of the committee (Shashi Tharoor) who said that Zhang would be invited before the panel, only to realize later that to invite a foreign dignitary, the chairman’s permission was required. The committee had to ask permission formally.
However, the committee did not “send any formal request requesting the speaker’s permission” for his appearance, the source said. Once the request has been made, the President may consider it in consultation with the legal experts if the appearance of a foreign national is necessary in this case.
IT panel sources, however, said the committee’s office sent a memo to the president, asking for permission in November following a unanimous decision to call the whistleblower for his statement.