There is no proposal to “invade” an individual’s right to privacy and freedom of speech, the government said today in Lok Sabha when asked if its proposed social media hub project could do so. In a written reply, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Rathore also maintained that the government proposes to set up the hub to “facilitate information flow regarding its polices and programmes through social media platforms i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube etc.”
His answer came in response to a question as to whether the government has proposed to set up a Social Media Communication Hub to monitor, collect and analyse data across all major social media platforms. “The government proposes to set up a Social Media Hub to facilitate information flow regarding its polices and programmes through social media platforms i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube etc.,” Rathore said.
On whether the project would invade an individual’s right to privacy and the right to freedom of speech, the minister said, “There is no proposal to invade an individual’s right to privacy, and the right to freedom of speech.” The minister’s reply in Lok Sabha comes days after the Supreme Court asked the government whether its move to create a Social Media Hub was to tap people’s WhatsApp messages, observing that it will be like creating a “surveillance state”.
The top court had agreed to hear a PIL filed by a Trinamool Congress legislator from West Bengal, raising the question whether the government wants to tap the citizens’ messages on WhasApp or other social media platforms. A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud had asked the Centre to respond to the plea by TMC MLA Mahua Moitra and also sought Attorney General K K Venugopal’s assistance in the matter.
“Does the government want to tap its citizens’ WhatsApp messages? It will be like creating a surveillance state,” the bench had said last week. 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.
The legislator from Karimpur constituency of West Bengal had alleged that the ‘Social Media Communication Hub’ (SMCH) is being set up with the clear objective of surveillance of activities of individuals such as herself on social media platforms.