Plan for ‘social media hub’ will create a surveillance state: SC
New Delhi: The Information and Broadcasting Ministry’s move to set up a social media hub to monitor online data would be like creating a surveillance State, the Supreme Court said in its strong observation on Friday.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra said the Central government wanted to tap citizens’ WhatsApp messages, and sought its response within two weeks.
The bench also comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud is hearing a petition by TMC legislator Mahua Moitra. The court sought Attorney-General (AG) KK Venugopal’s assistance in the case.
“The government wants to tap citizens’ WhatsApp messages. It will be like creating a surveillance state,” the bench said.
Senior advocate AM Singhvi, appearing for Moitra, said the government had issued a request for proposal for the project and the tender would be opened on August 20. The court will conduct the next hearing on August 3.
The petitioner has said the government is trying to monitor
social media content of individuals by tracking their accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and their e-mails.
The Broadcast Engineering
Consultants India Limited (BECIL), a Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) under the Ministry, has already floated a tender to supply a software for the project.
“A technology platform is needed to collect digital media chatter from all core social media platforms as well as digital platforms such as news, blogs... In a single system providing real-time insights, metrics and other valuable data,” the tender document says.
Under the project, media persons would be employed on contractual basis in each district to be the “eyes and ears” of the government and provide real-time updates from the ground.
The tender document says the platform is expected to provide automated reports, tactical insights and comprehensive work-flows to initiate engagement across digital channels.
“The platform may be used to disseminate content and, hence, should support publishing features,” the document says, adding the platform needs to power a real-time New Media Command Room.
It should also help the Ministry understand the impact of various social media campaigns conducted on Centrerun schemes, it says.
The project will help the government keep tabs on trending news in districts and gather feedback on its flagship schemes.
Experts would also be employed at the central level to analyse feedback.
They would also be used to combat rumours and would be point men to clear myths prevailing in their areas, sources said.