Even though the Supreme Court’s order regarding the fate of the ever-so-controversial Aadhaar is yet to be out, the unique identification authorities are planning to steer public opinion about the card.
The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has put out a request for proposal (RFP) asking media monitoring firms/agencies to apply for the job of looking after the kind of publicity Aadhaar is receiving and report it regularly. Not only that, the agency will identify “detractors” and “influencers” and steer the narrative around Aadhaar in a positive direction.
How will it be done?
On July 18, UIDAI issued the RFP looking for a social media agency that will know to use “online reputation management” and “social listening” tools to monitor and influence Aadhaar-related conversations on Facebook and Twitter. This is separate from the document released on July 19 that aims at hiring an agency to monitor newspapers and TV news channels.
The work of the social media agency will be to segregate Aadhaar related conversation into “problematic and non-problematic” categories and highlight the points that might be negative for the “Aadhaar brand”. The agency will also give a weekly feedback as “Online Reputation Management Reports” to UIDAI, which will have details of “top detractors, top influencers and the net sentiment related to Aadhaar.”
“This monitoring activity shall extend to social media platforms, websites (news and others), blogs/ forums, etc. so that issues related to Aadhaar can be understood,” the tender document states. “The tools shall be capable of doing a sentiment analysis of all such conversations and flag any discrepancy in sentiments’ trend. Additionally, the Service Provider will draft a plan to work out and neutralise negative sentiments.”
For the agency looking after mainstream and regional media, they will have to provide daily reports in a soft copy to UIDAI between 9 am and 4 pm. Additionally, the UIDAI has also stated that it can also demand hard copies from time to time. Another deliverable can be a pen drive with a copy of all news reports archived at the end of the year.
The quality parameter set by UIDAI is that it will cut 2% of the monthly retainer fee from the empanelled agency if they fail to report news clippings from organisations the same day. The agency is also supposed to keep all the data gathered absolutely confidential and share it only with UIDAI unless otherwise authorised.
Abuse of privacy
Aadhaar’s will to monitor social media and press coverage of their ‘brand’ comes at a time when the Information & Broadcast Ministry is trying to bring Social Media Monitoring Hub, that has been challenged in the Supreme Court for privacy concerns.
As per a bid document published in April, the I&B Ministry plans to deploy a “social media analytical tool” that will create digital profiles of citizens, ostensibly to gauge their opinions about official policies. It will create a “360-degree profile” of individuals and target them with personalised messages to sway their opinion.
This bid has been challenged in the Supreme Court on the ground that the government cannot obtain data of an individual without their permission.
The Logical Indian take
Concerns over violation of privacy have been a trending topic recently after the revelation of Cambridge Analytica that used individual’s data without their consent and influenced the course of political campaigning.
The Supreme Court last year granted every citizen their ‘Right to Privacy’. Yet, the government wants to influence and change the public opinion just to make sure one of their schemes works and becomes successful. They have become so desperate to prove that Aadhaar is safe that the former UIDAI chief recently made his Aadhaar number public and challenged hackers to harm him.
His bank account details, his address, his PAN card details were all revealed by vigilante hacker Elliot Anderson. There have been several news reports which reveal Aadhaar-related privacy issues. There have been reports of starvation deaths in Jharkhand’s poorest regions because of Aadhaar.
Even after so many instances of Aadhaar’s failure, the government wants to scrutinise mainstream media and various social media platforms and influence public opinion and that too on taxpayer’s money. To monitor and mould public opinion by a government agency shouldn’t be acceptable. This is just another way of keeping the voices of dissent mum and thereby harming the democratic nature of our country.