December 18, 2019 3:14:00 am
With its plans to hire an agency for social media management coming under legal challenge, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that the tender floated for this had “expired”, and it had no plans to revive that.
The UIDAI communicated this to a bench of Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph, which was hearing a PIL by Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra who alleged that the project was intended for “mounting surveillance on social media platforms”.
The UIDAI said the tender was put on hold till further directions after the PIL was filed.
Moitra had earlier challenged the Information and Broadcasting Ministry’s plan to set up a social media hub. Following the litigation, the Centre had dropped the plan.
In the present case, UIDAI told the court that the tender for hiring the agency was floated in 2018 through the Central Procurement Portal. It was “never pursued further and had automatically expired”. UIDAI said it “neither has any plans to revive the same tender nor is floating similar tender again”.
In her plea, filed through advocates Mohammad Nizam Pasha and Ranjeeta Rohatgi, Moitra pointed out that UIDAI had come out with a Request for Proposal (RFP) inviting tenders for this, and its “scope of work as per the RFP” includes appointing a private agency and assigning to it the task, inter alia, of employing a “Social Listening Tool” to monitor social media platforms.
Appearing for the petitioner, senior advocate Abhishek Singhvi had contended that the “impugned RFP violates…fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 19(1)(a) and 21 of the Constitution…the same aims to mount surveillance on social media platforms”.
The petitioner argued that the tool was “an attempt by the State to overreach the jurisdiction of 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”.
The plea contended that “through this back door, the State through its agency is seeking to aggregate this power of information about individuals in its hands without authority of law and without any corresponding checks and balances on that power in the form of a data protection regime. It is settled law that the placing of unguided and uncontrolled discretionary power in the hands of the executive is violative of Article 14 of Constitution.”
The plea stated, “While surveillance by agents of the State is itself violative of the right to privacy, in this case, privacy of the citizens is sought to be placed at the mercy of non-state actors, which reeks of manifest arbitrariness.”
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