Most recently, the Modi government put out a tender for a tool to monitor everything that citizens are saying about the establishment online — ostensibly to understand the sentiments of the people on social media.
Now, the legal challenge to this intrusive snooping is shaping up as well. Mahua Moitra, a former investment banker who is now a Trinamool Congress MLA from Karimpur in West Bengal, has filed a Public Interest Litigation against the proposed Social Media Communications Hub, making her one of a handful of politicians to speak up about the dangers that this kind of untrammeled surveillance poses to us all.
She appealed the Supreme Court to protect the privacy of people and her three pleas are still pending in the Supreme court. Her plea said the UIDAI, as per its bid document, was seeking to hire a social media agency that will employ ‘online reputation management’ and ‘social listening’ tools to monitor and influence conversations related to Aadhaar on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
“Such action of the government violates her right of privacy. The scope of work of the social media agency, intended to be selected through the impugned request for proposal (RFP), is in the teeth of the judgment by this court in the KS Puttaswamy case, wherein a bench of nine judges of this court recognized privacy as a fundamental right under the Constitution,” the plea said.
The petition claimed that the aim of employing a “Social Listening Tool” by the UIDAI’s social media agency in accordance with the RFP, on the pretext of raising awareness about Aadhaar, was nothing but an attempt to “overreach the jurisdiction” of the apex court.
“Despite the fact that the constitutional validity of various aspects of Aadhaar is under challenge before this court in a batch of petitions and judgement has been reserved by a Constitution Bench of this court in the matter, the respondents (Centre, UIDAI) have issued the RFP to identify ‘top detractors’ and ‘neutralize negative sentiments’ in relation to Aadhaar. It is, therefore, clear that the respondents have no respect or regard for proceedings before this court,” the petition read.
Mahua Moitra also alleged that the haste with which the RFP was being pushed through, with the bids scheduled to be opened less than two weeks after the publication of the RFP itself, demonstrated the mala fides of the Centre and the UIDAI.
The plea claimed that weekly and monthly reports are to be prepared by the social media agency, indicating the most discussed topics, top detractors, top influencers and the net sentiment related to Aadhaar.
“The entire surveillance architecture is to be placed in the hands of private persons employed on a contract basis who will be on the rolls of the service provider who emerges successful in the tender process.
“While surveillance by agents of the State is itself violative of the right to privacy, in this case, the privacy of the citizens of this country is sought to be placed at the mercy of non-State actors which reeks of manifest arbitrariness,” the plea alleged.
Earlier, the Centre had told the supreme court that it will undertake a complete review of the social media policy and had withdrawn its notification proposing a social media hub for the Information and Broadcasting Ministry.
The decision had then led to the disposal of an earlier plea against the hub filed by Moitra against the notification of the I&B Ministry.
With a series of pleas against the Modi government, Mahua Moitra has surely become another ‘Didi’ (West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee) who never allows BJP to rest.