We often feel we are under constant watch. Our data is gathered continuously and analysed by social networking websites. It can't get worse, or can it?
Well, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting now wants to surveil our social media activities by creating a “Social Media Communication Hub”. Through a tender that was supposed to close today at noon but has now been extended to June 16, it has invited contractors to submit bids to create detailed profiles of us by collecting intimate, personal details from our social media accounts (read more in Scroll). What is more, there is an earmarked budget of about 42 crores for it. Imagine your own tax money being used to put you under surveillance!
"Social Media Communication Hub"
Yesterday, we sent a legal notice to the Ministry of Information of Broadcasting citing concern and for it to be cancelled. The notice lists various features of the proposed software of such, "Social Media Communication Hub". These include the gathering of personal data from social media and emails, the creation of “360-degree profiles” of social media, “influencers”, generating and preparing reports, cataloguing and then storing all of this in a knowledge management database.
If this is not enough the “Social Media Communication Hub” will also have the ability to broadcast content without any legal authority or guidance through 20 central and 716 district level social media executives. In sum, this is a system of control through surveillance and a capacity to spread propaganda. Such distinct features are analysed and listed in our notice. We impress upon people to spend time reading it as many of these are not even inferences, but functionality desired as per express statements in the tender document.
Violative of Privacy and Freedom of Speech
These functions give rise to an array of legal harms, constitutional, legal - for privacy and the freedom of speech and expression. The Social Media Communication Hub will create a surveillance society and have a chilling effect on internet users across India.
Apar Gupta, co-founder and volunteer at IFF, said, “In China, a Social Credit Scheme builds off capacity for mass surveillance and uses big data analysis. It relies on detailed profiles of all its residents which are aggregated, analysed and stored on multiple data points. It is not out of place to remember that China also heavily censors its internet. Reading the tender document one feels it comes from a heavy inspiration of the Chinese model. Thankfully we have constitutional text and culture to protect us. Specifically, the Social Media Communication Hub is contrary to our fundamental rights to privacy and free expression. It is an insult to the nine-judge bench judgement that unanimously reaffirmed our fundamental right to privacy. We hope that the tender is recalled and cancelled failing which the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting will imperil the aspiration of a digital India, converting it into a digital panopticon.”
IFF reiterates its commitment to fight for privacy and free expression online. Failing positive action by the government to rescind and cancel this tender we will take all steps available under law.
Link to our correspondence:
Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) is a non-profit organisation that supports and advocates for a free and open Internet. We are a group of volunteers from the SaveTheInternet.in movement. We come from all over India, from different backgrounds and fields, including technology, law, policy, design, journalism. We aim to promote the rights of Internet users – freedom of speech, privacy, net neutrality and freedom to innovate.
- Apar Gupta, Trustee and Co-Founder (9990000256 [email protected]);
Internet Freedom Foundation online: