The Supreme Court Friday asked the government whether its move to create a Social Media Hub was to tap people’s WhatsApp messages, observing that it will be like creating a “surveillance state”.
The top court agreed to hear a PIL filed by a Trinamool Congress legislator from West Bengal, raising the question whether the government wants to tap the citizens’ messages on WhasApp or other social media platforms.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud sought the Centre’s response on the plea by TMC MLA Mahua Moitra and sought Attorney General K K Venugopal’s assistance in the matter.
“Does the government want to tap its citizens’ WhatsApp messages? It will be like creating a surveillance state,” the bench said.
Justice Chandrachud said if the government was seeking to monitor “every single tweet and WhatsApp messages, then we will be moving towards becoming a surveillance state.”
Senior advocate A M Singhvi, appearing for Moitra, said the government has issued a Request For Proposal (RFP) and the tender will be opened on August 20 for a software which would do a 360 degree monitoring on all social media platforms like WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram and track e-mail contents.
“They want to monitor social media content with the help of this social media hub,” Singhvi said, adding that the RFP violated fundamental Right to Privacy and Articles 14, 19(1)(a) and 21 of the Constitution.
The bench then listed the matter on August 3, before the opening of tender on August 20, and directed that the AG or any law officer for the government will assist the court in the matter.
On June 18, the apex court had refused to accord urgent hearing on the plea seeking to stay the Ministry’s move to set up a ‘Social Media Communication Hub’ (SMCH) that would collect and analyse digital and social media content.
The plea, filed through advocate Nizam Pasha, said “the impugned RFP invites proposals to select a bidder for the Supply, Installation, Testing and Commissioning (SITC) of software to SMCH of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and provision of service and support for function, operation and maintenance of SMCH “.
In May this year, the Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Limited (BECIL), a Public Sector Undertaking under the ministry, had floated a tender to supply a software for the project.