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Ahead of the 2019 Elections, Indian Government is Building its own Cambridge Analytica

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is planning to create a ‘social media analytical tool,’ according to a tender notice that was issued in April 2018. The tool is expected to monitor social media to assess trends and to get a ‘360-degree view of the people who are creating buzz across various topics’ on social media. The monitoring will be used to analyze ‘various trends emerging as well as to gauge the sentiments amongst netizens,’ the notice said.

With less than a year left for the 2019 general elections, the demands in the tender notice look ominous. It is supposed to function as a ‘guiding tool’ to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting providing data on the response of people to various government schemes. ‘How to make a particular topic trending’ is one of the areas of input the Ministry wants to be taken care of.

Things start to reek of privacy violation when it reaches the part that asks for ‘Listening and responding capabilities’ where the tool is asked to ‘listen to’ e-mails of users. Some of the other platforms that the Ministry wants ‘listening to’ are Facebook, Instagram, Play Store. The surveillance scheme and data harvesting clearly state that the state will have access to people’s communication and other activities online.

The section on Predictive Analysis describes a process by which the Ministry will be able to mould the public perception of the country into a positive one at all times. That is, the Ministry expects the tool to make predictions on headlines of news channels and papers based on the data it previously harvested. It is also supposed to provide a method by which ‘nationalistic feelings’ can be ‘inculcated in the masses.’ Improving the ‘perception management of India’ globally by giving ‘a positive slant’ for India is another aim of the tool.

An internet-based firm in Delhi told that it was not clear what the government was trying to achieve from the project. ‘To most it looked like a project targetted at elections,’ they said. The closing date for the bids for the project has been extended till May 31 from the earlier 23 and this is because people were not sure if the project was legal and what would happen to it after the elections in 2019, quoted an executive from the firm as saying.
This comes at a time when scandals of data breach are rocking the US (United States) government and credibility of elections. Analytics Firm Cambridge Analytica had harvested data of users in a similar manner and for the same purposes as described in the bid.
In August 2017, the Supreme Court of the country, while hearing the plea against Aadhaar, India’s unique identification system, had upheld the Right to Privacy as a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution, which upholds the right to life.

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