The Information and Broadcasting Ministry of India is planning a surveillance programme to create a social media hub to keep track of the data and information being shared on social media platforms like WhatsApp.
The Supreme Court has now taken note of the government’s plan. Expressing it’s concern, the SC said that such measures will make India a “Surveillance State”, and has asked the government to respond to the Apex Court’s concern within two weeks.
Responding to a plea made by Trinamool Congress (TMC) legislator Mahua Moitra, represented in court by Advocate A.M. Singhvi, the three-judge Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said, “ The Government wants to tap citizens’ WhatsApp messages. It will be like creating a Surveillance State.”
A surveillance state is one which legally surveils all actions, locations and friends of its citizens in order to prevent crimes or solve them faster.
The TMC legislator filed a writ after coming across the government’s plan, floated by the I&B Ministry, first in January and then again in April.
The bids are to be opened on 20th August. Hence, the Court has asked the government to respond within two weeks, and then it will hear the case again on 3rd August.
OBJECTIVES OUTLINED BY THE MINISTRY:
Government claims state the objective is to analyse people’s opinion with regard to the various projects initiated by the government.
The government also aims to mould the people’s perspective “in a positive manner for the country”, including inculcating nationalistic values in the masses.
NEGATIVES OF A SURVEILLANCE STATE: In a democracy, liberty and security complement each other. Liberty brings along risks, and security needs threaten the extent of our liberty. Therefore, the prime purpose of democracies is to strike the perfect balance. In a surveillance state though, liberty is over limited due to extreme emphasis on security needs.
However, liberal democratic countries such as USA have been active surveillance states fir long now.
Several other economic powers in the world have been indulged in similar practices to fight crime and terrorism, only the extent of surveillance differing. Some of the prime examples can be UK, China, France, Russia, Germany, Australia, etc.
Apart from States, our data privacy has also been compromised on by the social media giants themselves, the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data leak being the most recent example.
INDIAN GOVERNMENT’S SURVEILLANCE PROJECTS IN THE PAST:
• The Central Monitoring System (CMS): Enables the government to tap phone calls, intercept emails, track Google searches, etc.
• DRDO NETRA: The name itself meaning, ‘Eyes’, this is capable of tracking online communications on a real time basis, harvesting data from voice-over-IP services, including Skype calls.
Our WhatsApp messages had been beyond the government’s surveillance grid until now. However, the new plan of the I&B Ministry seems to threaten the privacy of this platform.
While security needs are extremely crucial, given the rampant crimes and terrorism on the rise, the balance is essential.
The tussle between privacy and security has been a long-lasting one, and is gaining greater importance with every passing day. It requires sheer wisdom to be able to draw the line. Let us hope the Indian government and the Judicial system work together to come to a conclusion that suits the best interests of all.