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Published On: Fri, Jul 13th, 2018

Regulating Social Media Will Turn India Into ‘Surveillance State: Top Court

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Supreme_court_bigNEW DELHI ;  The Supreme Court on Friday observed that letting one’s social media content tracked and regulated by the government would turn India into a “surveillance state”.The court said the government wanted to tap citizens’ WhatsApp messages and sought its response within two weeks.
A Bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud issued notice to the Central government on a plea by Trinamool Congress (TMC) legislator Mahua Moitra and sought Attorney General K.K. Venugopal’s assistance in the matter.
Under the proposed move by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the mechanism is to be made operational at the district-level for collecting and analysing digital and social media content.
Appearing for TMC MLA Mahua Moitra, senior advocate AM Singhvi submitted that the move was completely violative of the right to privacy and would be invasive of the fundamental rights.

Justice DY Chandrachud, who was a part of the bench, then observed: “Tracking and regulating social media content will transform us into a surveillance state”. Subsequently, the bench agreed to examine the matter and sought assistance of Attorney General KK Venugopal. It also issued a notice, calling for a formal reply from the Ministry concerned.
A separate matter relating to WhatsApp licensing policy is also pending in the Court where the moot contention is again about letting the service provider read the content before passing it on to the recipient.
In that batch of matters, the Court had observed that the 2017 ruling on the right to privacy will have a huge impact on any attempt to regulate social media. Senior advocate A.M. Singhvi, appearing for Mr. Moitra, said the government had issued a request for proposal and the tender would be opened on August 20.

“They want to monitor social media content with the help of this social media hub,” he said. The Bench then said it was listing the matter on August 3. On June 18, the court 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.
Counsel for Mr. Moitra had said the government was trying to monitor the social media content of individuals by tracking their accounts such as those on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and their e-mails. Tender floated for supply of software for project

Recently, the Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Limited (BECIL), a Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) under the Ministry, 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 areal-time New Media Command Room,” according to the tender document.( With Agency Inputs ).

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