Though IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad puts up a brave face before the social media platforms about the importance of safeguarding privacy of Indians who use their platforms, his own ministry has been making blatant violations of individual privacy in the name of state security, which is increasingly being used as a bogey to suppress dissent. In fact, the government has revived a move to set up a social media communications hub to monitor online data of social media users, after it was forced to shelve the controversial plan a couple of years ago. The public sector undertaking Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Limited (BECIL) has re-floated an invitation for ‘Expression of Interest’ (EOI) for empanelling agencies which can track social media, monitor social media sentiments, segregate activities into ‘problematic’ and ‘non-problematic’, make content go viral, and perform a range of other activities. The platforms to be monitored include Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.
But contrast that to the government’s ‘listening tool’, which is clearly a manifestation of the surveillance state that the Supreme Court had complained against. But Ravi Shankar Prasad and his team have no shame in attacking the social media platforms when it comes to privacy. The government’s obsession with social media makes one wonder whether the Indian state is so fragile to be destabilised by a negative tweet here or a post there or even a ‘toolkit’ by Greta Thunberg or Disha Ravi for that matter. The fear is more in the mind of the government functionaries like Prasad rather than any real danger to the nation and stems from a vulgar sense of insecurity.