The Supreme Court on Friday disapproved of the Centre’s proposal to set up a social media hub for monitoring online data and said that letting one’s social media content be tracked and regulated by the government would turn India into a “surveillance state”.
A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, issued notice to the Centre on a public interest litigtion (PIL) filed by Trinamul Congress legislator Mahua Moitra challenging the information and broadcasting ministry’s move to set up a “social media communication hub” (SMCH).
The ministry has proposed a mechanism at the district-level for collecting and analysing digital and social media content.
“Does the government want to tap its citizens’ WhatsApp messages? It will be like creating a surveillance state,” said the bench, which also included Justices A.M. Kanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud.
The court sought attorney-general K.K. Venugopal’s assistance in the matter and fixed August 3 as the next date of hearing. Appearing for the TMC MLA, senior
advocate A.M. Singhvi 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, Instagram, and their e-mails and WhatsApp messages.
He said that the move would violate the right to privacy and invade the fundamental rights.
The government had claimed that the move would keep it abreast of citizens’ view on various programmes and help understand their perception on various schemes. It had claimed that through SMCH, it would attempt to inculcate nationalist feelings among citizens and counter campaigns intended to harm India’s image globally.
Mr Singhvi argued that the proposal to set up SMCH would become a tool in the hands of private agencies to help the government launch surveillance on citizens’ activities on social media platforms in violation of the right to privacy, which is a part of right to life.
He said the tender for this proposal is to be finalised by August 20. The government has invited proposals for a software which would do a 360 degree monitoring on all social media platforms like WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram and track e-mail contents.
In May this year, the Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Limited (BECIL), a public sector undertaking under the ministry, had floated a tender to supply a software for the project.