SC: Blan­ket What­sApp track­ing will lead to sur­veil­lance state

PIL Chal­lenges So­cial Me­dia Hub Pro­posal

The Times of India (Mumbai edition) - - TIMES NATION - Dhanan­jay.Ma­ha­p­a­tra @times­group.com

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Fri­day said blan­ket mon­i­tor­ing of peo­ple’s ac­tiv­i­ties on so­cial me­dia by the gov­ern­ment would re­sult in a “sur­veil­lance state” as it sought the Cen­tre’s re­sponse to a PIL chal­leng­ing the pro­posal to cre­ate a So­cial Me­dia Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Hub (SMCH) on the grounds that it was meant to snoop on cit­i­zens.

“If there is a 360 de­gree mon­i­tor­ing of your What­sApp con­tent, we will be­come a sur­veil­lance state,” Jus­tice D Y Chan­drachud said. A bench of CJI Di­pak Misra and Jus­tices A M Khan­wilkar and Chan­drachud, ap­pre­ci­at­ing the ur­gency of the PIL by Tri­namool MLA Mo­hua Moitra, sought the Cen­tre’s re­sponse in two weeks. The PIL said mon­i­tor­ing so­cial me­dia ac­tiv­i­ties would be a bla­tant vi­o­la­tion of the right to pri­vacy.

While post­ing the mat­ter for fur­ther hear­ing on July 30, the bench sought at­tor­ney gen­eral K K Venu­gopal’s as­sis­tance in the case. The gov­ern­ment had claimed the hub was to track views on var­i­ous pro­grammes and un­der­stand pop­u­lar per­cep­tion on schemes. It also claimed that through SMCH, it would at­tempt to in­cul­cate nationalist feel­ings among cit­i­zens and counter cam­paigns in­tended to harm India’s im­age glob­ally.

Moitra’s coun­sel, se­nior ad­vo­cate A M Singhvi, said the pro­posed SMCH would be­come a tool in the hands of a pri­vate agency to help the gov­ern­ment launch sur­veil­lance on cit­i­zens’ ac­tiv­i­ties on so­cial me­dia plat­forms in vi­o­la­tion of the right to pri­vacy, which is a part of right to life. “It is a project to cre­ate ad­vance sur- veil­lance in­fra­struc­ture in the coun­try,” Singhvi said.

The pe­ti­tion said the ten­der doc­u­ment stip­u­lated that the suc­cess­ful bid­der would be re­quired “to col­lect dig­i­tal me­dia chat­ter from all core so­cial me­dia plat­forms as well as dig­i­tal plat­forms like news, blogs and fo­rums”. The so­cial plat­forms in­clude Face­book, Twit­ter, What­sApp, YouTube, In­sta­gram, Google, LinkedIn, Flickr, Tum­blr, Pinterest, Play Store and even emails. The last is also the most prob­lem­atic due to the im­plied mass sur­veil­lance of emails.

Moitra in her pe­ti­tion ac­cused the gov­ern­ment of at­tempt­ing to cre­ate a 360 de­gree pro­file of per­sons “who are cre­at­ing a buzz on so­cial me­dia”. She said the move vi­o­lated right to life guar­an­teed un­der Ar­ti­cle 21 of the Con­sti­tu­tion as well as other fun­da­men­tal rights of cit­i­zens.

The gov­ern­ment agency Broad­cast En­gi­neer­ing Con­sul­tants India Ltd, which floated the ten­der, spec­i­fied that the suc­cess­ful bid­der must set up a “team of 20 so­cial me­dia an­a­lyt­ics ex­ec­u­tives to pro­vide re­ports on sen­ti­ments, reach and details re­lated to trend­ing topics and hash­tags as in­structed by the min­istry of in­for­ma­tion and broad­cast­ing”.

The team is also ex­pected to do a pre­dic­tive an­a­lyt­ics about what would be the head­lines and break­ing news on var­i­ous TV chan­nels and news­pa­pers.

The SC has sought Cen­tre’s re­sponse in two weeks

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