This report was originally published in the Internet Governance blog of the Centre for Internet and Society’s website.
In 2014, the Government of India launched the much lauded and popular citizen outreach website called MyGov.in. A press release by the government announced that they had roped in global consulting firm PwC to assist in the data mining exercise to process and filter key points emerging from debates on Mygov.in. While this was a welcome move, the release also mentioned that the government intended to monitor social media sites in order to gauge popular opinion. Further, earlier this year, the government set up National Media Analytics Centre (NMAC) to monitor blogs, media channels, news outlets and social media platforms. The tracking software used by NMAC will generate tags to classify post and comments on social media into negative, positive and neutral categories, paying special attention to “belligerent” comments, and also look at the past patterns of posts. A project called NETRA has already been reported in the media a few years back which would intercept and analyse internet traffic using pre-defined filters. Alongside, we see other initiatives which intend to use social media data for predictive policing purposes such as CCTNS and Social Media Labs.
Thus, we see a trend of social media and communication monitoring and surveillance initiatives announced by the government which have the potential to create a chilling effect on free speech online and raises question about the privacy of individuals. Various commentators have raised concerns about the legal validity of such programmes and whether they were in violation of the fundamental rights to privacy and free expression, and the existing surveillance laws in India. The lack of legislation governing these programmes often translates into an absence of transparency and due procedure. Further, a lot of personal communication now exists in the public domain which renders traditional principles which govern interception and monitoring of personal communications futile. In the last few years, the blogosphere and social media websites in India have also changed and become platforms for more dissemination of political content, often also accompanied by significant vitriol, ‘trolling’ and abuse. Thus, we see greater policing of public or semi-public spaces online. In this paper, I look at social media monitoring as a tool for surveillance, the current state of social media surveillance in India and evaluate how the existing regulatory framework in India may deal with such practices in future.
Download the full report here.