Trinamool Congress MLA Mohua Moitra on Thursday moved the Supreme Court against the Unique Identification Authority of India’s plan to hire an agency to monitor social media platforms. Her petition was filed a day before the Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry withdrew its proposal to set up a social media hub to monitor the online data of people.
Mitra’s petition follows Scroll.in’s reportage about the UIDAI’s plans to monitor the coverage of its biometrics-based 12-digit Aadhaar identification number in news media and scan social media conversations to ascertain the public perception about it. The authority, which manages the Aadhaar database of more than one billion Indians, said it wants to use the data to identify “detractors” and “influencers” and run campaigns to “neutralise” the “negative sentiments” on the social media.
Moitra’s advocate Mohammed Nizam Pasha had filed a writ petition on Thursday seeking a listing of the plea with the legislator’s petition against the ministry. The court, however, declined their request. “A perusal of the ‘Scope of Work’ in the impugned Request for Proposal includes deploying a Social Listening Tool to ‘track and monitor’ online conversations relating to Aadhaar,” Moitra’s new petition said.
Unlike the Information and Broadcasting Ministry’s proposal, UIDAI does not specifically mention the monitoring of individual accounts, but it does not clarify how it planned on identifying “detractors” or “influencers”.
UIDAI did not respond to Scroll.in’s specific query on whether the authority would be monitoring individual accounts and how this would be done without compromising their privacy.
Petition against Information and Broadcasting Ministry
On Friday, the Centre informed the court of its decision to suspend the ministry’s plan after Moitra had moved the Supreme Court against it. On July 13, the court said the plan was akin to “creating a surveillance state”.
Moitra’s plea criticised the government plan 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.