July 13, 2018
New Delhi:The Supreme Court on Friday sought the Centre’s response to a plea by Trinamool Congress MLA Mahua Moitra for stalling move by Information and Broadcasting Ministry to keep a tab on social media platforms.
The ministry plans to set up a Social Media Communication Hub (SMCH) to track and monitor social media platforms to identify “buzz creators”.
Seeking the assistance of Attorney General K.K. Venugopal in the hearing of the matter, the bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud expressed apprehension that the move could turn the country into a “surveillance state”.
“If every tweet, WhatsApp (message) is monitored, we’ll be moving towards a surveillance state,” observed Justice Chandrachud.
Petitioner lawmaker Moitra has sought to block the request for proposal (RFP) inviting bids “for the supply, installation, testing and commissioning (SITC) of software for the hub.
The bids would be opened on August 20 and the court has slated the next hearing for August 3.
The petitioner lawmaker has told the court that the proposed hub violates her fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 19(1)(a) and 21 of the Constitution.
“Such intrusive action on the part of the government is not only without the authority of law, but brazenly infringes her fundamental right to freedom of speech under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution,” Moitra contended.
She has asserted that such monitoring also violates her fundamental right to privacy.
The PIL says that “the platform is expected to provide automated reports” and in addition to it manually by a “team of 20 social media analytics executives”, subject to a minimum of six reports per day, “on sentiment, reach, details related to trending about topics and hashtags as instructed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting”.
In all, 716 social media executives for each of the 716 districts in the country are expected to create “daily analysis reports incorporating local sentiment to be sent to ADG (region) and Media Hub (Command Centre)”.