The Leaflet

| @theleaflet_in | July 13,2018

A petition has been filed challenging a tender floated by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting for a software platform capable of collecting and storing information from activities in the digital sphere. Extending to email in addition to social media, the tender which has yet to find any applicants, calls for a software platform which enables the government to track conversations across social media platforms, as well as disseminate content using “predictive analysis” and to mould public perception “in a positive manner for the country”, and inculcate nationalist feelings within the masses”.

The writ petition was filed in Public Interest under Article 32 of the Constitution, praying to the Court to quash a Request For Proposal (RFP), and its subsequent revisions, by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The impugned RFP was floated to invite bidders who would be responsible for Installation, Testing and Commissioning (SITC) of Software and for the supply, service, support, operation and maintenance of a Social Media Communication Hub (SMCH).

The petitioner is Mahua Moitra, MLA from West Bengal and a member of Trinamool Congress,  claim the envisioned SMCH to be violative of fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 19(1)(a) and 21.

They contend that the SMCH aims at creating an advanced surveillance infrastructure via which the Government could “monitor” and “cut to size” all individuals who critique the government via social media, rather than its stated objective of being an analytical tool aiding the Ministry to gauge the effectiveness of its social media campaigns. They hold the SMCH to be restrictive of free speech, as it does not fall under any of the “reasonable restrictions” mentioned under Article 19(2).

The petitioner is Mahua Moitra, MLA from West Bengal and a member of AITC, claim the envisioned SMCH to be violative of fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 19(1)(a) and 21.
They contend that the SMCH aims at creating an advanced surveillance infrastructure via which the Government could “monitor” and “cut to size” all individuals who critique the government via social media, rather than its stated objective of being an analytical tool aiding the Ministry to gauge the effectiveness of its social media campaigns. They hold the SMCH to be restrictive of free speech, as it does not fall under any of the “reasonable restrictions” mentioned under Article 19(2)

They also contend it to be an instance of fundamental rights being restricted via executive action rather than legislation. This is procedurally “arbitrary” and violative of the Article 14.

Further, relying upon Puttaswamy, they state that the SMCH infringes upon an individual’s right to privacy and liberty, as it allows the Government to indulge in surveillance and profile it’s citizens via a private agent.

They also question the impugned scheme’s constitutional validity on various other grounds such as the non-existence of data protection laws in India, and the lack in specificity of the requirements to software is sought to fulfil.

The proposed SMCH may seek legitimacy as a measure to check the spread of fake news and track the perpetrators, but the threat it poses to civil liberties vis-a-vis infringement of fundamental rights cannot be ignored. It seeks to avail the government powers akin to the now struck down Section 66A of the IT Act. Further, in light of the vitriolic abuse any government critics face in the digital space, it also avails grounds to the government to orchestrate targeted attacks, or even get such accounts suspended, as seen in the past.

Click here to read Mahua Mitra’s Writ Petition.

1
Leave a Reply

avatar
1 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
0 Comment authors
Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
trackback

[…] A petition filed under Article 32 in public interest by Trinamool Congress MLA Mahua Moitra was admitted by the Supreme Court. Filed against the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and one of its subsidiary PSUs Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Limited (BECIL), the petitioner’s prayer was for a Request for Proposal (tender) to be quashed. […]

Also Read

In pursuit of justice

October 9,2018

Humanity deported

October 6,2018

A liberal court

October 3,2018

Ambedkar's feminism

September 18,2018

Azadi for LGBTQI communities

September 8,2018

Mother like no other

September 7,2018

Why Article 35A matters

August 15,2018

Challenges beyond 377

August 13,2018

A positive beginning

August 10,2018

WSS condemn transphobia

August 6,2018

Blame it on Collegium

August 5,2018

Scroll Up