Union Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Rathore on Sunday said the government has “no plan to control social media.” Rathore’s comments come soon after the Supreme Court pulled up the Centre on July 12 for its decision to create a social media hub to monitor online data. The court said tracking user data will be “like creating a surveillance state”.
On Sunday, Rathore told reporters on the sidelines of the Youth Parliament event at Karnavati University in Gandhinagar that the government believed individuals should “self-regulate” their opinions on social media, PTI reported. “If there is a possibility of riots anywhere, the local government should keep an eye on it and take steps it deems fit,” he added.
The minister blamed the Congress for “creating an environment of fear” about the project and claimed that the party has “no better matters” against the government.
According to a bid document issued in April 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 tool, according to the document, should have the capacity to monitor a range of digital platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and blogs. The tool should also be able to “listen to” email, the document says, though it is not clear how this can be achieved without violating users’ privacy.
The tool is intended to be used by a Social Media Communications Hub that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is planning to establish.
Rathore alleged that the Jawaharlal Nehru government was the first to bring an amendment to the Constitution to restrict free speech. “To stop Shyama Prasad Mookerjee from speaking about Akhand Bharat, a restriction on free speech was created,” he said. “Thereafter his daughter’s son [Rajiv Gandhi] wanted to read letters posted by Indians and wanted to bring an amendment to the Indian Postal Act, which was not ratified by the president.”