Plan for ‘so­cial me­dia hub’ will cre­ate a surveil­lance state: SC

DNA (Delhi) - - FRONT PAGE - DNA Cor­re­spon­dent cor­re­spon­dent@dnain­

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.

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