UIDAI's proposal on social media agency: Supreme Court gives two weeks to TMC MLA Mahua Moitra to support her claim

New Delhi: The Supreme Cout on Thursday questioned Trinamool Congress MLA Mahua Moitra over her claim that the Centre's move of hiring a social media monitoring agency was aimed at "mounting surveillance on social media platforms" and asked her to submit material within two weeks in support of her apprehension.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi asked Moitra to file an affidavit in this regard.

"Please show us from your pleadings that the State will surveil the online activities of citizens... File supplementary affidavit within two weeks to show that this exercise is meant for state surveillance," the bench said.

File image of Supreme Court. PTI

File image of Supreme Court. PTI

The Centre had earlier told the court that it was willing to accommodate the suggestions of the TMC leader in the proposal of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to hire a social media agency to monitor online platforms.

Moitra had alleged that the move of hiring a social media monitoring agency was aimed at "mounting surveillance on social media platforms".

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 recognised 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 'neutralise 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.

The MLA has 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 apex 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.


Updated Date: Nov 22, 2018 16:33 PM

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