Congress raises citizen snoop alarm

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New Delhi, June 2: The Congress on Friday indicated willingness to fight another legal battle against the Narendra Modi Government, alleging its plan for “social media communication hubs” was a plot to snoop on citizens despite the Supreme Court upholding the right to privacy.
Under a Government plan, each district will have such a hub to keep a tab on what is trending on social media there, assess local sentiments, and gather feedback on the Government’s flagship programmes.
“This reminds us of George Orwell’s 1984 – the Big Brother is planning to watch Indians, monitor what they say on social media,” Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said.
“The Government, which has been a habitual offender on the question of privacy, now wants to know even the intimate personal details.”
Asked whether the Congress would mount a legal challenge, Singhvi said: “We reserve all the rights, including legal, to oppose this move. We are asking the Government to explain what the proposed safeguards are.
“Has there been any consultation with civil society? What is the purpose? Why do they want conversations archived? I have read the tender they issued and found no safeguards at all.”
Singhvi added: “The concern is caused by the Government’s track record – they have shown the tendency to enter our personal lives, peek into even our bedrooms. They have shown little concern for the sanctity of personal data, as reflected in multiple instances of leaks, ranging from Aadhaar data to bank details.
“The Prime Minister has done it, seeking unnecessary 22-point details through the NaMo App. It’s a serious matter.”
The I&B Ministry’s 65-page tender notice suggests the Centre wants a company to provide analytical software and a team of at least 20 professionals to man each hub.
According to the tender, the tool should be able to monitor a range of digital platforms – from Twitter and Facebook to Instagram, Google Playstore and YouTube – as well as Internet news and blogs. It should be able to “listen to” email, the document says, though it’s not clear how this can be done without violating laws.
The Congress sniffs in this a Government plan to set up a gigantic surveillance mechanism to gather data for political profiling, targeted electioneering and indoctrination and even for curbing criticism.
It feels that such a move would be grossly illegal in the light of the Supreme Court’s privacy judgment, and is shocked that the Government wants to monitor even emails. It expects independent organisations and civil society groups to fight this proposal.
The tender notice says the software should act as the guiding tool for the I&B ministry “to understand the impact of various social media campaigns conducted on various schemes run by the Government of India”. The data will be used to improve the reach of such campaigns, it adds.
Data on the “digital chatter” collected across social media platforms will be analysed with the purpose of moulding public perception in a positive manner, inculcating nationalistic feelings and improving perceptions of India around the world, the bid document says. The hubs will be expected to generate daily reports from each of India’s 716 districts. (Courtesy: TT)