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SC Lens on UIDAI's Move to Gauge Sentiment on Aadhaar After Plea Alleges 'Social Snooping'

The plea said the UIDAI 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 Facebook and Twitter.

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Updated:September 7, 2018, 8:45 PM IST
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SC Lens on UIDAI's Move to Gauge Sentiment on Aadhaar After Plea Alleges 'Social Snooping'
A woman goes through the process of eye scanning for Unique Identification (UID) database system. (Representative Image /REUTERS)
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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday sought the help of Attorney General KK Venugopal after a petition alleged that Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which runs the Aadhaar scheme, was trying to monitor social media.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud, while asking Venugopal to assist, said monitoring was directly against the submissions made by the UIDAI during the hearing of the Aadhaar matters, adding that what the UIDAI was proposing was contrary to ‘what it had argued while seeking validity of Aadhaar’.

The UIDAI, during the hearing of a clutch of petitions challenging the validity of Aadhaar scheme, had told the apex court that it did not want to monitor the online activities of citizens holding Aadhaar cards.

The plea filed by Mohua Moitra, an MLA of the Trinamool Congress, said the UIDAI 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 like Facebook and Twitter.

She alleged that the move of hiring a social media monitoring agency aimed at "mounting surveillance on social media platforms" and cited the agency’s bid document to back her claims.

"Such action of the government violates 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 laid down by this Court in K S Puttaswamy case, wherein a bench of nine judges of this court recognised privacy as a fundamental right under the Constitution," the plea said.

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

"Despite the fact that the constitutional validity of various aspects of Aadhaar is under challenge before this Court in a batch of petitions and judgment has been reserved by a Constitution Bench of this Court in the matter, the Respondents (Centre, UIDAI) have issued the RFP to identify 'top detractors' and 'neutralise negative sentiments' in relation to Aadhaar. It is therefore clear that the Respondents have no respect or regard for proceedings before this Court," the petition said.

The legislator alleged that the haste with which the request for proposal was being pushed through with the bids scheduled to be opened less than two weeks after the publication of the RFP demonstrated the mala fides of the Centre and the UIDAI.

The plea said 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 apex court has asked the UIDAI to place the tender document on record to verify the claims and will hear the case again next week.

Earlier, the Centre had told the apex court that it will undertake a complete review of social media policy and withdrawn its notification proposing a social media hub for the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry.The decision had then led to the disposal of an earlier plea against the hub filed by Moitra against the notification of the I&B Ministry.
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