If implemented Social Media communication hub will transform India into a Surveillance state? Critically comment. (150 W/ 10 M)

Mentor’s Comment:

Introduction should talk about Social Media Communication Hub and SC’s direction to government towards its creation.

Further, explain the functions of this Hub.

Next, mention how Social Media Communication hub will help in positive delivery.

How will the Social Media Hub transform India into a surveillance state. Points like mass surveillance, profiling, effects on freedom of speech, data collection and protection is very important, curbing of misinformation and propaganda in the form of fake news etc.

Next bring way forward in the form of conclusion based on the points mention in intro and conclusion.

 

Model Answer:

Background:

  • The Supreme Court has issued a notice to the Centre on a plea challenging its proposed move to set up a Social Media Communications Hub.
  • SC observed that “we will be moving to a surveillance state” if every tweet and WhatsApp message is monitored.

What is Social Media Communication Hub?

  • The Social Media Communication Hub is a proposed project which seeks to monitor social media platforms and analyses the data to provide feedback to the government.
  • It will be a platform that will allow the government to keep an eye on all social media platforms — Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn etc. — and try to get a sense of the public mood, with the capability to track any individual’s public posts across platforms.

What this Hub will do?

  • The responsibilities of these social media hub will be to:
  • Collect data on regional media and local events.
  • Provide content for social media, support media units of MIB at district/regional level for social media publicity.
  • Monitor local editions of newspapers, local cable channels, local audio channels (FM) and important local social media handles for important local developments.
  • Collate and analyses important local news with a focus on issues related to government.
  • Identify positive stories regarding various initiatives and appraise New Media Wing/Ministry to disseminate the success through various platforms.
  • Check spread of fake and incorrect news and information and bring it to the notice of relevant authorities.
  • Carry out perception analysis on various events, initiatives, schemes etc. of government.

How Social Media Communication hub will help?

  • It will act as the guiding tool for the ministry to understand the impact of various social media campaigns conducted on various schemes run by the government
  • It will give location-based insights, will measure the effectiveness of hash tag campaigns, and the needs of micro-level categorisation for mentions around topics, which, in turn, will help in efficient decision-making by identifying the key problem area.

How will the Social media hub transform India into a surveillance state?

Mass Surveillance:

  • The request for proposal expressly says that the Hub is to conduct mass surveillance on social media, and even goes so far as to say information from emails is to be collected.
  • It has been argued that this cannot be a legitimate state goal, and does not satisfy the tests of proportionality and necessity required for any such programme as per the Supreme Court’s landmark right to privacy judgment in 2017.

Profiling:

  • The aim of building a 360-degree view of influencers on social media, and the maintenance of a database, violate multiple aspects of the fundamental right to privacy, and includes no protections for individuals or their data.

Effect on Freedom of Speech:

  • The Supreme Court has previously held in the 1997 PUCL case that telephone tapping without some specific justification on security grounds would violate the right to freedom of speech, since people who are constantly under the watch of the government would feel threatened and would not be able to speak freely.
  • The Hub’s proposed plan to monitor social media and emails of all individuals, without warrants or any reason, would have a similar effect and would therefore be unconstitutional.

No Safeguards:

  • India still doesn’t have a data protection law, and the government’s plans for the Hub include no oversight or accountability in any case.
  • In addition to this, the specifications for the software include the ability to erase and manipulate logs, which would allow even misuse of the Hub to be protected from scrutiny.

Misinformation and Propaganda:

  • The fifth and sixth features of the Hub allow for the posting and publishing of content on the basis of surveillance, which is vulnerable to abuse since there is no legislative backing or purpose restriction.
  • This capacity to spread one-sided information, misinformation or disinformation falls foul of legal principles set out by the Supreme Court in the Cricket Association of Bengal case.

Way forward:

  • In the absence of strong ethical and legal safeguards against breach of privacy, the proposal to set up Social Media Communication Hubs is highly controversial. There is no assurance that the agencies will follow basic principles of transparency and ethical standards while dealing with personal data.
  • In India, personal information is exposed to serious risks from state and non-state actors. There have been various instances of Aadhaar data leak.
  • Further, the recent Cambridge Analytica Data Leak Scandal shows the political ramifications of data collected from social media without an informed consent. Therefore, it is pertinent to protect the user’s privacy and this necessitates a strong data protection law in India.
  • There should be an informed analysis and subsequently, public comments should be sought before the implementation of the project.
  • Further, the project should be based on a parliamentary consensus rather than an executive resolution to providea definite legal basis.
  • Subscribe

    Do not miss important study material