Social Media Monitoring: Tender for monitoring agency withdrawn, UIDAI to Supreme Court

Social Media Monitoring: Tender for monitoring agency withdrawn, UIDAI to Supreme Court

The UIDAI today told the Supreme Court that it has withdrawn its tender calling for bids for its social media monitoring agency.

TMC MP Mahua Moitra had moved the Supreme Court in 2018 challenging the proposed move by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to monitor social media. When the plea was taken up today by the Bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph, the Attorney General for India KK Venugopal told the Court that not only is the UIDAI withdrawing its tender for bids but will also not float any such tender.

Moitra had challenged the proposed move by the UIDAI on the grounds of it being violative of right to privacy given that the body sought to develop a system for tracking and monitoring online conversations, carrying out sentiment analysis, and to “neutralise negative sentiments”.

The UIDAI itself had, however, claimed that this social media monitoring agency would have been used merely to gauge public sentiment as regards the Aadhaar scheme. During one of the previous hearings in the case in September 2018, the Attorney General for India KK Venugopal had told the court that the Centre was willing to accommodate the recommendations to the plan for this monitoring agency.

Prior to this proposed move by the UIDAI, the Centre had proposed to set up a social media hub that envisaged a 360° evaluation of social media movements of the public at a district level. Platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc were sought to be tracked to identify the “buzz creators” and social media influencers.

The monitoring of social media activity could then have been used for categorising individuals as ‘positive’, ‘negative’ et al based on the content shared or put out. This move was also challenged by Moitra and during a hearing on the same Justice Chandrachud had observed that if the government was seeking to monitor every single tweet and WhatsApp message that is sent, “we’ll be moving towards becoming a surveillance state”.

The Request for a proposal by the MoIB was withdrawn but a similar plan was proposed by the UIDAI. Today, however, the UIDAI told the Court that the tender for bids it had floated now stands expired and the body does not intend to float any such tender. The petition was thus, disposed of by the Court.

Moitra was represented by Senior Counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Advocate Nizam Pasha.

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