THE SUPREME Court on Thursday asked Trinamool Congress MLA Mahua Moitra to submit material on the basis of which she apprehended that the Unique Identity Authority of India’s (UIDAI) plan to hire a “social media agency” — to gauge public sentiments on Aadhaar on the social media — was actually intended to bring in state surveillance.
“The petitioner shall within two weeks file a supplementary affidavit indicating the basis of apprehension that the exercise proposed by the State is intended to bring in State surveillance, as alleged…”, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi ordered.
The bench, which also comprised Justices K M Joseph and M R Shah, told Advocate Mohammed Nizam Pasha, who appeared for the petitioner, “Please satisfy that the exercise is being undertaken for surveillance.”
Pasha replied that he had included the relevant material in the petition, but the court pointed out that what he submitted were the contents of the Request for Proposal (RFP) issued by UIDAI and it was not there in the pleadings. “Please take us through your pleadings to show this is indeed connected with state surveillance,” the court said. The counsel then contended that the RFP was evidence enough of the government’s intentions. He said the Supreme Court had by its Aadhaar judgment limited the use of the unique ID to social welfare measures. The class of people who avail such subsidies were not the ones likely to use social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, he said and wondered why then would UIDAI want to monitor these platforms. The counsel submitted that he will furnish any additional information as sought by the court.
Moitra, who represents Karimpur in Nadia district in the West Bengal Assembly, in her petition has referred to a RFP issued by UIDAI inviting tenders for hiring the agency and said that its “scope of work as per the RFP” includes appointing a private agency to act as Social Media Agency for the UIDAI and assigning to it the task, inter alia, of employing a “Social Listening Tool” to monitor social media platforms.
She contended that the Social Listening Tool sought to be deployed by the Social Media Agency of the UIDAI under the RFP “is an attempt by the State to overreach the jurisdiction of the this Hon’ble Court in matters where legality of social media surveillance and Aadhaar itself is under challenge and this Court is seized of these issues”.