Pulled up by the Supreme Court, the Narendra Modi government has dropped the proposal to create social media hubs across the country, which some have alleged could become a tool to monitor online activities of citizens.
The decision was conveyed to the apex court on Friday while hearing a petition filed by Trinamool Congress MLA Mahua Moitra, challenging the government's move.
The Centre's plan to set up the hubs for monitoring online data got into serious trouble as the bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud on July 13 warned that it amounted to nothing but creating a "surveillance state" and "sheer intrusion into privacy".
The SC had cautioned the Centre against any plan to snoop into one's WhatsApp, email accounts or social media posts in Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
At the outset of Friday's hearing, Attorney General KK Venugopal told the judges: "The petition has become infructuous. We are withdrawing the RFP (Request For Proposal)."
The submission, ironically, came 17 days before the tender was to be issued. The tender document said the successful bidder would be required "to collect digital media chatter from all core social media platforms as well as digital platforms like news, blogs and forums".
After the AG's submission, the bench recorded: "The Union of India submits that it has withdrawn its request for proposal to set up social media hubs. In view of the aforesaid nothing remains to be adjudicated."
The bench had earlier taken a strong note of the I&B ministry's decision and sought its response by Friday. Significantly, it had also sought the AG's assistance in the matter, remarking: "It seems the government wants to tap citizens' WhatsApp messages. It will be like creating a surveillance state."
The proposed 'Social Media Communication Hub' was for collecting and analysing digital and social media content. Moitra's lawyer, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, said that the government has issued request for proposal for social media hubs and the tender would be opened on August 20. "They want to monitor social media content with the help of this social media hub," he argued.
The bench then said it is listing the matter before the opening of the tender on August 20 and the AG or any law officer for the government will assist the court in the matter.
Recently, the Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Limited (BECIL), a public sector undertaking (PSU) under the ministry, had floated a tender to supply a software for the project.