Political parties on Friday criticised the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Centre’s attempt to introduce a social media monitoring system in the country.
According to a bid document issued last month by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the government hopes to deploy a “social media analytical tool” that will create digital profiles of citizens, ostensibly to gauge their opinions about official policies. The government hopes to use this information to target individuals with personalised campaigns to promote “positive” opinions and to neutralise “negative sentiments” about government schemes.
The Congress on Friday said this showed that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s “obsession with snooping has reached dangerous levels”, NDTV reported. “They will misuse this tool to shape the narrative, influence the voters, to adopt unethical and unfair means to grab democracy rather than earn the trust,” Congress spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill said. “This government can’t be trusted with such a lethal weapon.”
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Working President MK Stalin said that the government’s plan to use social media analytical tools to monitor emails, Facebook and Twitter activity “raises serious issues of illegal surveillance and marks the beginning of a totalitarian regime”. He urged the Centre to “stop all such unconstitutional endeavours”.
The ruling party, however, continued to defend its idea. Bharatiya Janata Party leader R Balashankar told Mirror Now that the government would not have floated a tender if it had ulterior motives. He claimed that the proposed tool would not infringe upon the privacy of individuals, but would only be used to promote government schemes. “There is no conspiracy or intention to interfere in the private lives of citizens,” Balashankar claimed.
Advocate Prasanna S told the channel that it was likely that the proposal would be struck down by the courts at the outset. “The only way the government can defend something like this is by telling us that it a belated April Fool’s joke,” he said. “Why does this proposal not have to be placed before Parliament?”
Scroll.in journalist Kumar Sambhav Srivastava, who wrote the article detailing the government’s plan to monitor social media users, told the channel that while Cambridge Analytica was a private firm that targeted social media users in the United States for a particular political party’s benefit, in India, the government itself intended to carry out such surveillance.
“Previous governments have also indulged in surveillance for intelligence purposes,” Srivastava said. “But doing it openly, for campaigning? It is the blatant nature of this [proposed tool] that shocks me”.