The Centre told the Supreme Court on Friday that it was withdrawing the notification proposing to set up a social media hub to monitor the online data of people. Attorney General KK Venugopal told the court that the government will review the policy, PTI reported.
On July 13, the court said it will be “like creating a surveillance state” while taking note of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry’s plan. The court had sought the government’s response within two weeks on a petition filed by Trinamool Congress legislator Mahua Moitra. It had also sought Venugopal’s assistance in the matter.
The government had hoped to deploy a “social media analytical tool” that will create digital profiles of citizens, ostensibly to gauge their opinions about official policies, according to a bid document issued in April by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
The government hoped to use this information to target individuals with personalised campaigns to promote “positive” opinions and to neutralise “negative sentiments” about government schemes. The tool, according to the document, would have had the capacity to monitor a range of digital platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and blogs. The tool would have been able to “listen to” email, the document said, though it is not clear how this could have been achieved without violating users’ privacy.
Days after the top court pulled up the Centre, Union Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Rathore had said the government has “no plan to control social media”. He claimed the government believed individuals should “self-regulate” their opinions on social media. “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 also blamed the Congress for “creating an environment of fear” about the project and claimed that the party has “no better matters” against the government.