In strong remarks in response to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry’s decision to set up a social media hub for monitoring online data, the Supreme Court, on Friday said that the move would be like ‘creating a surveillance state” and sought a reply from Centre within two weeks on the matter.
“The government wants to tap citizens’ WhatsApp messages. It will be like creating a surveillance state,” a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, said.
The bench also issued a notice to the Centre on a plea by Trinamool Congress (TMC) legislator Mahua Moitra and sought Attorney General K K Venugopal’s assistance in the matter. Senior advocate A M Singhvi, appearing for Moitra, said the government has issued a request for proposal and the tender will be opened on August 20.
“They want to monitor social media content with the help of this social media hub,” Singhvi said. In reply, the bench said that it is listing the matter on August 3, before the opening of tender on August 20 and AG or any law officer for the government will assist the court in the matter.
Last month on June 18, the apex court had refused to accord urgent hearing on the plea seeking to stay a central government move to set up a ‘Social Media Communication Hub’ that would collect and analyse digital and social media content.
Earlier in January this year, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry had come up with the plan to set up a ‘Social Media Communication Hub’ that would help it keep a tab on trending news in districts and gather feedback on the Centre’s flagship schemes.
The ministry had said that under this project, media persons would be employed on a contractual basis in each district to be the “eyes and ears” of the government. These persons were supposed to provide real-time updates from the ground and take people’s feedback on the government’s policies.
Recently, the Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Limited (BECIL), a Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) under the ministry, had floated a tender to supply a software for the project.