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Govt withdraws ‘social media hub’ plan after SC’s surveillance state remark

On June 18, the Supreme Court had 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.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi | Updated: August 3, 2018 5:36:08 pm
After the government mooted the proposal of creating a social media hub, a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud had observed in July: “The government wants to tap citizens’ WhatsApp messages. It will be like creating a surveillance state.”

Weeks after the Supreme Court termed the government’s proposal to monitor online data akin to ‘creating a surveillance state’, the Centre told the apex court Friday that it has withdrawn the proposal for setting up a ‘Social Media Communication Hub’. The apex court had issued a notice to the Centre on a plea by Trinamool Congress (TMC) legislator Mahua Moitra.

Hearing the plea, a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud had observed: “The government wants to tap citizens’ WhatsApp messages. It will be like creating a surveillance state.” The court had listed the matter for further hearing for August 3.

Earlier on June 18, the apex court had 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. 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. Also Read: Why track social media chatter

It must be noted that the first tender, advertised in January calling for private players to set up the government project, did not find enough bidders and was scrapped. It was announced for a second time in April, with August as the deadline to submit bids.

What is the proposed Social Media Communications Hub?

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 said

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. According to the tender document, 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 a real-time New Media Command Room,” the tender document said.

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