software that can scrutinise 40 million pages an hour.

Hi, Saravanan :
India Today Big Brother's Online Watch

In the run-up to Union budget 2018, the information and broadcasting ministry, then headed by Smriti Irani, monitored in real time online conversations centred on the word ‘budget’. Kaushik Deka A team scrutinised social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook and a number of blogs. 

Based on their analysis, finance minister Arun Jaitley acted to allay apprehensions about certain budgetary provisions. For instance, the analysis showed that Jaitley’s decision to make no changes in personal income tax slabs had led to a lot of resentment. 

On cue, the government decided to play up the decision to re-introduce standard deduction—set at Rs 40,000 in the budget—as a boost to the take-home pay of employees, even though its impact is marginal at best. 

Encouraged by this experiment and with less than a year left for the general elections, the I&B ministry has planned to set up a ‘Social Media Communication Hub’, contracting people across each of India’s 716 districts to keep their eyes peeled on trending topics and feedback on the Centre’s schemes. 

According to officials, those working on the project will be the ‘eyes and ears’ of the government and provide reports across both social and mainstream media, keeping as close an eye on newspapers, television and radio stations as on social media. 

The government approved the hiring of these personnel—one for each district presently, and 20 eventually—in February. They will compile at least six reports every day. According to sources in the ministry, the finance committee has sanctioned Rs 17 crore to set up the hubs. 

Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Ltd, a public sector undertaking under the I&B ministry, has floated a tender to supply software for the project. The document states that the platform will be expected to provide automated reports, tactical insights and comprehensive workflows to initiate engagement across digital channels, and should enable publishing features to help disseminate information. 

The new tool should be able to “listen” and respond to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram and “Google Play Store, email, news, blogs, complaint sites and forums”, says the document. It will “power a real-time New Media Command Room”. 

Cyber security experts, however, say the language of the tender is a violation of the IT Act, 2000. For instance, “listening to email” is not possible without the permission of the email account holder. “Even to monitor content on other platforms, intermediaries like Facebook or Google will have to permit monitoring, but they are not supposed to do that unless there is a specific court order,” says cyber security expert Subimal Bhattacharjee. 

He points to a 2009 notification by the Centre that allows the government to monitor online content only under specific circumstances and as a time-bound exercise requiring several approvals. The government’s intent is evident from the bid document, which requires that the social media analytical tool “should have a comprehensive analytics system to monitor and analyse various aspects of social media communication and [the] World Wide Web” and should be able to monitor emerging trends and “gauge the sentiments (of) netizens”. 

It should be a “guiding tool” for the ministry to understand the impact of social media campaigns run by the government. This is not a new idea. The existing social media analytics wing of the ministry currently scrutinises posts on social media platforms and generates reports for the PMO, the National Security Advisor’s Office, intelligence agencies and ministries such as home and defence. 

This wing uses software that can scrutinise 40 million pages an hour. 

(http://www.magzter.com/share/mag/5/279441/) (http://www.magzter.com/share/mag/5/278328/) (http://www.magzter.com/share/mag/5/277201/)

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