Update on Nov 26, 2018: In an affidavit filed in the apex court, the UIDAI said that the proposed social media agency will not access any private conversations, reports The Indian Express. UIDAI also conveyed that it has modified and removed the portions from its Request for Proposal (RFP) which led to the doubts. However, Moitra’s lawyer Nizam Pasha, informed MediaNama that they would still be pursuing the case.

UIDAI informed the court that the proposed social media agency will only look at the information on Aadhaar that is available “on public platforms such as Twitter, Facebook posts/comments, Google PlLus comments Blogs, Consumer forum websites etc, which individuals themselves put out.” The nodal agency for Aadhaar called the allegations of violation of privacy rights and surveillance as totally misplaced. It further added it it does not seek to track or profile any person in any manner.

In its reply, UIDAI said that the purpose of the RFP is to raise awareness about Aadhaar, its usage and benefits; highlight the role of Aadhaar e-governance; spread awareness about the services and schemes linked to Aadhaar etc; and remove any misconception associated with it.

UIDAI rejected Moitra’s allegation that the UIDAI was employing a “social listening tool”. UIDAI said that there are several technological terms may be misunderstood, if literally read. “For instance, a Social Listening Tool does not in fact ‘listen to’ any oral conversations and is limited to publicly available written scripts available on social media platforms.”

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Previously on Nov 23, 2018: The Supreme Court of India gave two weeks notice to Trinamool Congress MLA Mahua Moitra to substantiate her claim of social media surveillance by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), reports The Indian Express.

A three-judge bench comprising of Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, Justice KM Joseph and Justice MR Shah was hearing the petition filed by Moitra.

Earlier, Moitra had moved the Supreme Court against UIDAI’s plan to hire a social media agency to monitor the coverage of Aadhaar in media and on social media. Moitra, in her plea, demanded the quashing of the proposed agency. She argued that the agency’s planned activities amounted to surveillance of citizens and violated fundamental rights to equality, life and personal liberty, freedom of speech and expression.

Justice Gogoi, said, “show us from your pleadings that the state will conduct surveillance (of) the online activities of citizens.” Moitra’s advocate Mohammad Nizam Pasha informed the court that he had submitted the contents of UIDAI’s Request for Proposal (RFP) in the petition and that it was evidence enough of the Centre’s real intention. He also said that the apex court’s judgement on Aadhaar restricted the use of Aadhaar to the social welfare scheme and therefore, UIDAI’s decision to monitor Twitter and Facebook was strange.

In September, the Supreme Court told the UIDAI that the bid to hire a social media agency for monitoring such platforms was contrary to its earlier submission. At that time, a bench of the then Chief Justice, Dipak Misra, and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud was hearing the petition. The Centre later told the court that it was willing to accommodate the suggestions of the TMC leader in the proposal of the UIDAI to hire a social media agency.

UIDAI’s proposal for the social media agency’s tasks

UIDAI’s proposal lays down the tasks that it wants from the contractors:

  • To track conversations, links and blogs about UIDAI, Aadhaar and other related issues and topics.
  • To track sentiments and classify them into positive, neutral or negative.
  • To use third party tracking tools to track the progress of each network.
  • To report any discrepancy in sentiments.
  • To draft plans to work out and neutralise negative sentiments.
  • To submit effectiveness analysis weekly and/or monthly reports to UIDAI as required.
  • To monitor various platforms and detect anomalies, segregate activities into problematic and non-problematic based on various keywords and give an informed forecast.
  • To highlight incidences which may have a negative impact on the Aadhaar brand.

Different arms of the government have issued six other tenders and RFP since 2014, all of them seeking to keep an eye on what users were posting on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Apart from that, in August the Central government withdrew a similar RFP seeking bids to establish a Social Media Communications Hub.