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Weeks after the Supreme Court terming its plan an attempt to ‘create a surveillance state’, Narendra Modi government said it has dropped its plans to create a Social Media Communication Hub to monitor social media.

Attorney General (AG), KK Venugopal on Friday, August 3, told the three-judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by CJI Dipak Misra that no monitoring of social media will be done anywhere in the country. The centre said it has withdrawn the proposal for setting up a ‘Social Media Communication Hub’.

Accordingly, a writ petition filed by Trinamool Congress MLA Mahua Moitra, challenging the Centre’s move, was disposed of, as the petitioner withdrew the petition.

The apex court had issued a notice to the Centre on a plea by Trinamool Congress (TMC) legislator Mahua Moitra.

Hearing the plea, a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud had observed: “The government wants to tap citizens’ WhatsApp messages. It will be like creating a surveillance state.”

Earlier on June 18, the apex court had refused to accord urgent hearing on the plea seeking to stay a central government move to set up a ‘Social Media Communication Hub’ that would collect and analyse digital and social media content. The counsel for Moitra had said that the government is trying to monitor social media content of individuals by tracking their social media accounts such as those on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and their e-mails.

The government had issued a tender in January seeking applications from organisations to analyse social media posts and emails to check fake news, help boost ‘nationalism’ and neutralize any “media blitzkrieg by India’s adversaries.”

It did not find enough bidders and was scrapped. It was announced for a second time in April, with August as the deadline to submit bids.

“A technology platform is needed to collect digital media chatter from all core social media platforms as well as digital platforms such as news, blogs… In a single system providing real-time insights, metrics and other valuable data,” the tender document said

Under the project, media persons would be employed on contractual basis in each district to be the “eyes and ears” of the government and provide real-time updates from the ground. According to the tender document, the platform is expected to provide automated reports, tactical insights and comprehensive work-flows to initiate engagement across digital channels.

“The platform maybe used to disseminate content and hence, should support publishing features,” the document says, adding the platform needs to power a real-time New Media Command Room,” the tender document said.

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