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Centre withdraws proposal for Social Media Communications Hub

The Centre has withdrawn its proposal for a Social Media Communications Hub, the Supreme Court was told today.

PTI Last Updated at 03 Aug 2018, 19:08 IST India

The Centre has withdrawn its proposal for a Social Media Communications Hub, the Supreme Court was told today, days after the apex court observed the country will be moving to a "surveillance state" if the move is aimed at monitoring online data.

The top court was also told by Attorney General K K Venugopal that the Centre will undertake a complete review of its social media policy.

On July 13, the apex court had asked the government whether the move by the Centre to create the hub was to tap people's WhatsApp messages.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra considered the submission of Venugopal, who appeared for the Centre, that the proposed decision has been withdrawn and decided to dispose of the petition that had alleged it was a tool to monitor online activities of citizens.

The government, in its request for proposal (RFP), had invited bids and proposals for selecting an agency to set up a "Social Media Communication Hub' by the Information and Broadcasting(I&B) ministry.

At the outset, Venugopal submitted that the plea has been rendered infructuous as the government has withdrawn its decision and would undertake a "complete review" of the matter.

The bench was hearing the petition filed by TMC MLA Mahua Moitra alleging that the Centre's social media hub policy was to be used as a tool to monitor social media activities of citizens and should be quashed.

The Trinamool Congress(TMC) legislator from West Bengal had asked whether the government wants to tap citizens' messages on WhatsApp or other social media platforms.

In a written reply to a question in Lok Sabha last month, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Rathore had said, "There is no proposal to invade an individual's right to privacy and the right to freedom of speech."

His response had come to a question on whether the government's proposed Social Media Hub project could invade an individual's right to privacy and the right to freedom of speech.

"The government proposes to set up a Social Media Hub to facilitate information flow regarding its policies and programmes through social media platforms i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube etc.," Rathore had said.

Moitra in her petition said the government had issued an RFP. The tender was to be opened on August 20 for a software which would do a 360-degree monitoring on all social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Twitter, and Instagram and track email contents, she said.

On June 18, the apex court refused an urgent hearing on the plea seeking to stay the ministry's move to set up the social media hub that would collect and analyze digital and social media content.

In May, the Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Limited (BECIL), a public sector undertaking under the ministry, had floated a tender to supply software for the project.

Moitra said the hub "is being set up with the clear objective of surveillance of activities of individuals such as herself on social media platforms".

In her plea, she said such intrusive action on the part of the government was "not only without the authority of law but brazenly infringes" her fundamental right to freedom of speech under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and violated her right of privacy.

Raising concerns, she said the proposed SMCH seeks to create technology architecture that merges mass surveillance with a capacity for disinformation.

The petition quoted the RFP as saying that the platform should "support easy management of conversational logs with each individual with capabilities to merge it across channels to help facilitate creating a 360-degree view of the people who are creating buzz across various topics".

It said technology is required to have the capability to listen to and collect data not only from social media platforms but also from e-mails.

WhatsApp, which was recently under fire over fake and provocative messages being circulated on its platform, had informed the IT and Electronics Ministry that it has the ability to prevent spam but blocking can be done only based on user reports since it cannot see the content of private messages.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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