Govt’s retreat welcome

The Modi government has done well to drop its controversial plan to set up a social media communication hub which was intended to monitor social media traffic and trends and the activities of individual citizens and groups. The government was actually forced to go back on the plan because of the widespread outrage and criticism of its proposal and the possibility of the Supreme Court striking down the move. Discussions about the plan in the media had brought to the fore these apprehensions and fears. They also showed that the government did not have a good reason for formulating such a proposal and implementing it. The government’s spokesmen could not give a convincing justification for it. That the claim that the hub was intended to help the government to give information to the people about its programmes and get their responses was bogus was clear from the tender the government floated in this respect. 

The government had taken the decision, which affected the rights and freedoms of people, and gone ahead with it without any consultations and legislative backing. It had invited tenders for the software tool to be used for the programme. The plan was to set up centres in all districts in the country which would monitor the entire range of communications on social platforms like Facebook and Twitter and even the e-mail messages of citizens. Conventional media at the regional and local levels were also to be monitored. This would have been an invasion of the right to privacy and other fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. It is surprising that a government could even conceive such a plan in a democratic country.

The Supreme Court, which took up the matter on the basis of a petition filed by Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, observed that the implementation of the proposal would make the country a surveillance state. That was an indication of the court’s disapproval of the move. It is not the first time that the government is withdrawing a move which would curb and violate constitutional rights. Earlier this year it had issued some guidelines which would have led to the cancellation of the accreditation of journalists if they were found to generate “fake news’’. This was a threat to media freedom and an attempt to control journalists. It was withdrawn after a public outcry. It is hoped that the withdrawal of the latest proposal is also for good and it will not come back in some other form. The repeated challenges to the rights and freedoms of citizens demand constant vigil and determination to defeat them, wherever they may come from.

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Govt’s retreat welcome

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