A govt hell-bent on spying on citizens

A countrywide official machinery which will track everything that is spoken and written on any forum everywhere is new, and dangerous.

The central government’s decision to set up an elaborate machinery to collect data from social media platforms and regional media and to monitor their working and content is another dubious move to interfere with citizens’ and press freedoms. This move also has come from the I&B ministry, which had to withdraw its controversial order to withdraw the accreditation of journalists who report ‘fake news’. The plan is to set up social media communication hubs in all the districts in the country which will monitor all media and online content, collate, analyse and classify them and file six reports daily to the Centre. Customer data will be “integrated with social profiles’’, customer loyalty and past behaviours will be recorded and “influencers’’ will be identified on the basis of followers, etc. It will also check the spread of fake and incorrect news and report to the authorities about it. Ostensibly, the intention is to get citizens’ responses to government schemes and programmes. But the way the hubs have been organised, their work goes much beyond that. 

Even without these hubs the government has an elaborate system of getting people’s responses to and opinions on its programmes. There are also arrangements for monitoring the views and activities of individuals and organisations in the interest of national security and prevention of crimes. But a countrywide official machinery which will track everything that is spoken and written on any forum everywhere is new, and dangerous. That amounts to surveillance of the entire population. The government can make use of the data it collects in many ways. The use can be both legal and illegal, wrong and improper. It can identify entities and individuals who support it or oppose it and target them on the basis of their opinions or activities, even if there is nothing illegal about their views and conduct.

E-mails of even a personal nature, forums where people communicate and all that appears on social and online platforms come within the purview of the hubs. The government does not have the right and authority to pry into all these areas. This will amount to violation of the right to privacy which the Supreme Court has declared as a basic right. All such data will be accessed and procured by the government without the consent of the individuals and entities which own them. This was what Cambridge Analytica had done, too. It is significant that the government is launching such a project when the elections are fast approaching. There is no law that empowers the government to do it. The move must be opposed. An Orwellian ‘Big Brother’ project of this nature has no place in a democracy. 

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A govt hell-bent on spying on citizens

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