40 government departments are using a social media surveillance tool

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On August 3, the Centre withdrew its proposal of creating a Social Media Communication Hub, through which it wanted to monitor the social media accounts of citizens, after the Supreme Court called the plan an attempt at creating a “surveillance state”. But even before this plan of the government could come under public scrutiny, several of its agencies had been using a “strategic” tool that conducts mass surveillance of citizens’ social media activities, show documents reviewed by Scroll.in.

The tool – Advanced Application for Social Media Analytics or AASMA – was developed by the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology, Delhi, a Delhi government university, with funding from the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology around 2013-2014. Since then, its use by government agencies has grown manifold without much public scrutiny.

“Government of India has officially declared this project as STRATEGIC in nature and is closely monitoring the growth of the same,” says the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology’s annual report of 2016-2017. According to the report, more than 40 state and Central government departments had deployed the tool by April 2017 and another 75 had requested its installation at the time.


‘We don’t know who is using it for what purpose’

It is not clear from the documents if the use of AASMA is limited to security and intelligence agencies. It is also not clear what oversight these agencies have on the surveillance tool to prevent any misuse of personal data collected by it. Given that India does not yet have a law to ensure data protection or to define the process of obtaining consent from individuals before using their online data, the widespread use of a social media surveillance tool by government agencies has raised privacy concerns.

“The biggest concern around use of this tool is there is no transparency,” said Amber Sinha of the Centre for Internet and Society, a non-profit research organisation. Sinha added, “We don’t know who is using it for what purpose. We don’t know whether the government agencies are just using it to aggregate data of social media chatter or tracking profiles of past criminals or profiling each individual. If they are tracking social media activities of each individual, it would have a chilling effect on free speech.”

.... Read more: https://scroll.in/article/893015/40-government-departments-are-using-a-social-media-surveillance-tool-and-little-is-known-of-it
 
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