Is the central government trying to create a surveillance state? The Supreme Court asked the question on Friday on hearing a petition by Trinamool Congress legislator Mahua Maitra against the social media hub that the centre plans to set up to monitor social media activity.
“The government wants to tap citizens’ WhatsApp messages. It will be like creating a surveillance state,” a three-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra observed, according to PTI.
The top court has asked the centre’s response to come back with its response within two weeks. It will hear the case again on August 3.
Ms Maitra, represented in court by advocate AM Singhvi, filed the writ after coming across calls for bids floated by the information and broadcasting ministry, first in January and then in April again.
The bids are to be opened on 20 August, PTI added, quoting advocate AM Singhvi.
If the move survives the legal challenge, it would arm the government with a monitoring system that could track tweets, posts and content shared from anywhere in India.
On record, the project to set up listening posts across the country was aimed at helping the government to understand the impact of various social media campaigns conducted on various schemes.
Experts say the system could rival the capabilities of surveillance programmes like China’s censorship platform or the American National Security Agency’s infamous snooping tool called PRISM.
But the government doesn’t just intend to track content but also use the system to mould public perception “in positive manner for the country”. Such as, the document says, “how could nationalistic feelings be inculcated in the masses”.
The government’s move, which was highlighted in the middle of a fierce global debate about data privacy sparked by the Cambridge Analytica scandal that revealed how personal information was used to influence political campaigns without the consent of users.
The tool, which is expected to read information in a large number of Indian languages, is to help facilitate creating a 360 degree view of people.