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No social media hub, Govt tells SC as it withdraws notification

By Vicky Nanjappa
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    New Delhi, Aug 3: The Union Government has withdrawn a notification proposing to create a social media hub. This was submitted before the Supreme Court by Attorney General, K K Venugopal.

    Attorney General, K K Venugopal

    It may be recalled that the decision to set up the hub had come under severe criticism with many alleging that it would be used as a tool to monitor the social media activities of citizens.

    Venugopal told the Bench that the Centre is withdrawing the notification proposing to create a social media hub, for a complete review of the policy on this issue.

    The decision was challenged by Trinamool Congress MLA, Mohua Moitra, who had alleged that it was a tool being create to create a 360 degree profile of those who make noise on the social media on important issues.

    Last month the court had taken a strong note of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry's decision to set up a social media hub for monitoring online data, observing that it would be "like creating a surveillance state". The court said the government wanted to tap citizens' WhatsApp messages.

    "The government wants to tap citizens' WhatsApp messages. It will be like creating a surveillance state," the Bench said.

    Senior advocate A M Singhvi, appearing for Moitra, said the government had issued a request for proposal and the tender would be opened on August 20.

    "They want to monitor social media content with the help of this social media hub," he said.

    On June 18, the court refused to accord urgent hearing on the plea seeking to stay a central government move to set up a 'Social Media Communication Hub' that would collect and analyse digital and social media content.

    Counsel for Moitra had said the government was trying to monitor the social media content of individuals by tracking their accounts such as those on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and their e-mails.

    Recently, the Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Limited (BECIL), a Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) under the Ministry, floated a tender to supply a software for the project.

    "A technology platform is needed to collect digital media chatter from all core social media platforms as well as digital platforms such as news, blogs... In a single system providing real-time insights, metrics and other valuable data," the tender document says.

    Under the project, media persons would be employed on contractual basis in each district to be the "eyes and ears" of the government and provide real-time updates from the ground.

    The tender document says the platform is expected to provide automated reports, tactical insights and comprehensive work-flows to initiate engagement across digital channels.

    "The platform maybe used to disseminate content and hence, should support publishing features," the document says, adding the platform needs to power a real-time New Media Command Room," according to the tender document.

    It should also help the Ministry to understand the impact of various social media campaigns conducted on Centre-run schemes, it says.

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