Taking a strong note of 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 it will be “like creating a surveillance state”. A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud sought response from the Centre on a plea by Trinamool Congress legislator Mahua Moitra alleging that the government is trying to monitor social media content of individuals by tracking their social media accounts such as those on Twitter and Facebook.
While seeking the attorney general’s assistance in the matter, the bench said: “The government wants to tap citizens’ WhatsApp messages. It will be like creating a surveillance state.” Senior advocate AM Singhvi, appearing for Moitra, argued that the government has issued request for proposal and the tender which will be opened on August 20 for creating a ‘Social Media Communication Hub’ would collect and analyse digital and social media content. “They want to monitor social media content with the help of this social media hub,” he argued.
The apex court then posted the matter for further hearing on August 3, before the opening of tender on August 20. Recently, the Broadcast Engineering Consultants India, a public sector undertaking under the ministry, had 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 maybe 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 to understand the impact of various social media campaigns conducted on the Centre-run schemes, it says.