July 17 2018: India's apex court has come down heavily on government over its attempts to monitor social media content across a wide swathe of popular sites and tools in multiple Indian and international languages.
It was reacting to a public interest litigation that revealed official plans to set up a Social Media Communication Hub at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, for monitoring and collecting " Digital media chatter from all core Social Media Platforms as well as digital platforms like news, blogs and forums".
The 3-member Bench of the Supreme Court said: "The government wants to tap citizens' whatsapp messages... Tracking and regulating social media content will transform us into a surveillance state".
The next hearing is due on July 30.
The government-owned Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Ltd (BECIL) has floated a tender dated April 25 2018, (Ref No: BECIL/Social Media/MIB/02/2018-19 ) inviting agencies to bid for the contract toprovide software, service and support for the " for function, operation and maintenance" of such a hub.
The hub is is expected to" not only listen to the standard digital channels listed below but also enable easy extension to integrate proprietary data sources like the mobile insights platform. The following need to be supported: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, Flickr, Tumblr, Pinterest, PlayStore, email and news."
The Platform "should have support for languages English, Chinese, German, French, Arabic apart from Indian languages like Hindi, Urdu, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Bengali, Punjabi, Tamil and English."
"The System should provide a NLP engine which can extract sentiment from the above languages as well as context. The system should also allow for training based on custom dataset to provide for better accuracy with time. "
The impugned tender notice states under "Scope of work":
"A technology platform is needed to collect Digital media chatter from all core Social Media Platforms as well as digital platforms like news, blogs and forums along with a proprietary Mobile Insights platform in a single system providing real time insights, metrics and other valuable data. The platform will be deployed in the private data centre and will need to integrate with the mobile platform database for a seamless view across all data platforms."
"The platform is expected to provide automated reports, tactical insights as well as comprehensive workflows to initiate engagement across digital channels. The platform maybe used to disseminate content and hence should support publishing features. The platform should also support easy management of conversational logs with each individual with capabilities to merge it across channels to help facilitate creating a 360 degree view of the people who are creating buzz across various topics."
"The platform needs to power a real time New Media Command Room – which basically means the platform should have the ability to analyze as well as visualize large volumes of data across diverse digital platforms in real time. Preference will be given to home grown technologies and partnerships for technology capability should be limited as there will eventually be asks for modifications to the system based on requirement, hence ownership of the code is critical. The platform has to be a proven solution with a track record of similar large scale deployment as well as capabilities."
"The social media analytical tool should have comprehensive analytics system to monitor and analyze various aspects of social media communication and World Wide Web. The tool should have the capability to crawl World Wide Web and social media to monitor and analyze various trends emerging as well as to gauge the sentiments amongst netizens. The tool should be comprehensive with the capability to generate reports and do customizations as per the requirements of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The tool should act as the guiding tool for Ministry of Information & Broadcasting to understand the impact of various social media campaigns conducted on various schemes run by the Government of India. In addition, the tool should have the capacity to provide inputs to the Ministry on how to improve the reach of various social media campaigns, how to make a particular topic trending and for the overall general improvement of social media campaigns."