Centre's decision of hub to monitor online data will be 'like creating a surveillance state', says Supreme Court

The top court said the government wants to tap citizens' WhatsApp messages and sought its response within two weeks.

Published: 13th July 2018 12:24 PM  |   Last Updated: 13th July 2018 08:30 PM   |  A+A-

The Supreme Court of India

Supreme Court (File Photo| PTI)

By Express News Service

NEW 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 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 remarks came on a PIL moved by a TMC legislator against the Central government's proposed move to set up a 'Social Media Communication Hub'.

Recently, the Broadcast Engineering Consultant India Limited (BECIL) had invited tenders for setting up social media monitoring centres. The tender was invited for software requirement for the project. It is to be used by the government for collecting information from social media.

According to the tender document, "A 360° evaluation of the social media movements of the public is sought to be conducted at a district level by this hub.

Platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc are sought to be tracked to identify the "buzz creators" and social media influencers. The monitoring of social media activity will be used for categorising individuals as 'positive', 'negative' et al based on the content shared or put out."

Appearing for TMC MLA Mahua Moitra, senior advocate A M Singhvi submitted that the move was completely violative of the right to privacy and would be invasive of the fundamental rights.

"They want to monitor social media content with the help of this social media hub," Singhvi argued. The bench then slated the hearing for August 3.

In her plea, Moitra said that the Centre's move to monitor social media would give it access to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and email accounts of individuals. This is a blatant violation of the right to privacy, she said.

This led Justice D Y Chandrachud to observe, "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. The petitioner alleged that the Centre's move to set up social media monitoring hubs was a violation of the right to privacy, which was declared a fundamental right by the Supreme Court last year.

The social media monitoring hubs would be tools to snoop on individuals, the petition claimed.

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