Sc:on­linemon­i­tor­ing­will leadto sur­veil­lance state

Plea says an­a­lyt­i­cal tool ex­pected to ‘lis­ten’ to con­ver­sa­tions

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - - HTNATION - HT Cor­re­spon­dent

NEW DELHI: The in­for­ma­tion & broad­cast­ing min­istry’s plan to set up a hub to mon­i­tor ac­tiv­ity on so­cial me­dia would cre­ate a “sur­veil­lance state”, the Supreme Court ob­served on Fri­day as it is­sued no­tice to the gov­ern­ment.

“Tap­ping of cit­i­zens’ What­sapp mes­sages by the gov­ern­ment will be like cre­at­ing a sur­veil­lance state,” ob­served jus­tice DY Chan­drachud, who is part of three-judge bench hear­ing the case. Chief jus­tice of In­dia Di­pak Misra and jus­tice AM Khan­wilkar are the two other mem­bers of the bench.

The court listed the mat­ter for hear­ing on Au­gust 3 af­ter the pe­ti­tioner, Tri­namool Congress (TMC) leg­is­la­tor Mahua Moitra, said the gov­ern­ment had floated ten­ders for sup­ply of soft­ware for the project with a dead­line of Au­gust 20.

The bench also sought At­tor­ney Gen­eral KK Venu­gopal’s as­sis­tance in the mat­ter.

Se­nior ad­vo­cate AM Singhvi, ap­pear­ing for Moitra, said the gov­ern­ment wants to “mon­i­tor so­cial me­dia con­tent with the help of this so­cial me­dia hub.”

“We will list the mat­ter be­fore open­ing of the ten­der,” the bench said.

Broad­cast Engi­neer­ing Con­sul­tants In­dia Lim­ited (BECIL), a pub­lic sec­tor com­pany un­der the I&B min­istry, floated the ten­der to sup­ply 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 sites and blogs “in a sin­gle sys­tem pro­vid­ing real-time in­sights, met­rics and other valu­able data,” the ten­der doc­u­ment says.

It adds that the tool must have “lis­ten­ing and re­spond­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties” with re­spect to “stan­dard dig­i­tal chan­nels” such as Twit­ter, In­sta­gram, Youtube, email, and blogs and also be able to an­a­lyse sen­ti­ment of posts on so­cial me­dia as “pos­i­tive, neg­a­tive and neu­tral”.

Ac­cord­ing to Mahua Moitra, the so­cial me­dia an­a­lyt­i­cal tool is ex­pected to ‘lis­ten’ to con­ver­sa­tions on all ma­jor dig­i­tal chan­nels in­clud­ing email with­out any au­tho­ri­sa­tion in vi­o­la­tion of the Tele­graph Act.

A pe­rusal of the scope of work in the pro­posal shows that the pro­posed So­cial Me­dia Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Hub is noth­ing but soft­ware ar­chi­tec­ture for on­line sur­veil­lance, Tri­namool Congress leg­is­la­tor Mahua Moitra claimed.

The ex­tent, na­ture and scope of data col­lec­tion about in­di­vid­u­als con­tem­plated in the pro­posal is to un­der­stand the im­pact of var­i­ous so­cial me­dia cam­paigns con­ducted on var­i­ous wel­fare schemes run by the Gov­ern­ment of In­dia, and there­fore suf­fers from the “vice of man­i­fest ar­bi­trari­ness” and in­fringes Ar­ti­cle 14, the pe­ti­tion states.

The project en­vis­ages em­ploy­ment of me­dia per­sons on con­trac­tual ba­sis in each dis­trict to be the “eyes and ears” of the gov­ern­ment and pro­vide real-time up­dates from the ground.

The min­istry of in­for­ma­tion and broad­cast­ing did not com­ment.

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