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Supreme Court raps government on whatsapp surveillance

The country’s top court on Friday warned the Narendra Modi government against any plan to snoop on your WhatsApp, email accounts or social media posts on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

The Centre’s proposal to set up a hub for monitoring online data got into trouble as the Supreme Court said it amounted to creating a surveillance state and sheer intrusion into privacy. A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra.

and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud took strong note of the information and broadcasting ministry’s move and sought its response by August 3, the next date of hearing.

It also asked for attorney general KK Venugopal’s assistance in the matter, observing: It seems the government wants to tap citizens’ WhatsApp messages.

It will be like creating a surveillance state. The proposed Social Media Communication Hub would collect and analyse digital and social media content.

The development comes amid a rash of lynchings and violence across the country sparked by rumours on such apps and sites.

The court order came on a petition filed by Trinamool Congress (TMC) legislator Mahua Moitra.

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Moitra, said the government has issued a request for proposal for the social media hub 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 argued.

The SC bench then said it is listing the matter before opening of tender on August 20 and the attorney general or any law officer for the government will assist the court in the matter.

The counsel for Moitra had said that the government is trying to monitor social media content of individuals by tracking their social media accounts such as those on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and their e-mails.

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.

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, according to the tender document.

It should also help the ministry to understand the impact of various social media campaigns conducted on Centre-run schemes, it says.

The profiling is to be carried out in the most brazen manner whereby technology architecture is being put into place by which the social media personality of an individual, critical of the government, can be used by the State in the most arbitrary manner to cut one to size and force one to kowtow to the State, Moitra’s petition alleged.

Such a project has long term implications and is likely to damage the democratic setup of our country. It is submitted that this is nothing but a novel attempt to circumvent the fundamental right of privacy.

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