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UIDAI shelves plan to hire social media agency to monitor online platforms

"UIDAI has decided not to pursue the project. The issue has become infructuous. As of today, there is no plan that such project will be pursued," he told the bench.

Press Trust of India  |  New Delhi 

A view of the Supreme Court | Photo: PTI
A view of the Supreme Court | Photo: PTI

The Centre on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has decided to shelve its proposal to hire a agency to monitor online platforms.

The top court was told by the Centre that UIDAI's Request for Proposal (RFP) issued for a agency has not been pursued by it and as of today there was no plan to have any such an agency.

A bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and K M Joseph disposed off a plea of Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra alleging that the move of hiring a monitoring agency was aimed at "mounting surveillance on social media platforms".

It noted the submission of Advocate Zoheb Hossain, appearing for the Centre, that has neither a plan nor any intention to pursue the project.

At the outset, Hossain submitted a communication to the bench and said that has decided to not pursue the project and the RFP has lapsed.

"has decided not to pursue the project. The issue has become infructuous. As of today, there is no plan that such project will be pursued," he told the bench.

The top court had last year questioned Moitra, then MLA of TMC over her claim that the Centre's move of hiring a social media monitoring agency was aimed at "mounting surveillance on social media platforms" and asked her to submit material within two weeks in support of her apprehension.

The Centre had earlier told the court that it was willing to accommodate the suggestions of the TMC leader in UIDAI's proposal to hire a social media agency to monitor online platforms.

Moitra's plea had said that the UIDAI, as per its bid document, was seeking to hire a social media agency that will employ 'online reputation management' and 'social listening' tools to monitor and influence conversations related to Aadhaar on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

"Such action of the government violates her right of privacy. The scope of work of the social media agency, intended to be selected through the impugned request for proposal (RFP), is in the teeth of the judgment by this court in the K S Puttaswamy case, wherein a bench of nine judges of this court recognised privacy as a fundamental right under the Constitution," her plea said.

The petition claimed that the aim of employing a "Social Listening Tool" by the UIDAI's social media agency in accordance with the RFP, on the pretext of raising awareness about Aadhaar, was nothing but an attempt to "overreach the jurisdiction" of the apex court.

Moitra has alleged that the haste with which the RFP was being pushed through, with the bids scheduled to be opened less than two weeks after the publication of the RFP itself, demonstrated the mala fides of the Centre and the UIDAI.

The plea had claimed that weekly and monthly reports are to be prepared by the social media agency, indicating the most discussed topics, top detractors, top influencers and the net sentiment related to Aadhaar.

"The entire surveillance architecture is to be placed in the hands of private persons employed on a contract basis who will be on the rolls of the service provider who emerges successful in the tender process.

"While surveillance by agents of the State is itself violative of the right to privacy, in this case, the privacy of the citizens of this country is sought to be placed at the mercy of non-state actors which reeks of manifest arbitrariness," the plea had alleged.

Earlier, the Centre had told the apex court that it will undertake a complete review of the social media policy and had withdrawn its notification proposing a social media hub for the Information and Broadcasting Ministry.

The decision had then led to the disposal of an earlier plea filed by Moitra against the notification of the I&B Ministry.

First Published: Tue, December 17 2019. 19:55 IST
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