The system proposed by the government includes tracking social media conversations in real time, profiling influencers, and performing sentiment analysis on the data collected.

In a development worth watching, the Himachal Pradesh State Electronics Development Corporation (HPSEDC) has issued a Request for Proposal asking for responses in order to create a mechanism for redressing complaints who identifies complaints posted on social media platforms, blogs, etc. and automatically collect tickets for the complaints so government departments can take action.

The RFP consulted by MediaNama stated that the motives for developing such a system include strengthening a “proactive government image” along with public satisfaction, identifying citizens’ real problems, and so on.

The Supreme Court had previously criticized a central government tender to set up a social media monitoring hub. Although not for surveillance purposes, the design of the HPSEDC project is very similar to the design of surveillance projects, so it is worth knowing.

Scope of the project

According to the RFP, the system could be implemented in a period of two years. Its functionalities can be roughly divided into the following categories:

Content tracking and data storage

The system tracks and stores the following data on its server:

Monitoring and storage of conversations in real time: The RFP requires the system to be able to track “all open source conversations related to the state government” in real time on various platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, Flickr, Tumblr, blogs, news, discussion forums, etc., with keywords and channels. In addition, the system should be able to “query” and “extract without being detected” comments that would be stored “easily accessible” on its platform.

Audience reactions: It should also enable the display of audience reactions or feedback like Twitter mentions, Twitter DMs, hashtags, Facebook tagged posts, Facebook comments, Facebook visitor posts, etc. of multiple accounts on its platform.

Content in different languages: The system chosen should also enable tracking and recognition in English, Hindi and other languages.

Government Agency Responses: The system also tracks responses government departments give aggrieved citizens or relevant concerns posted online.

What will be done with this data?

The data, once collected, is used to create profiles, reports and perform various types of analysis such as demographic and sentiment analysis.

Tailored reports for CMO: The tender requires the system to provide tailored reports as required by the Chief Minister Office along with regular reports showing the number of complaints received, resolved and pending.

In addition, it is also said to generate multiple reports of Twitter and Facebook mentions, as well as the time it takes to resolve complaints.

Influencer analysis and profiling: The tender stipulates that the system offers “influencer profiling” together with a content, fan and influencer analysis. It does not specify who this “influencer” can be and does not provide any further details.

Storage of consumer data: The RFP explicitly calls for precautions to be taken to store the historical data of citizens. In certain cases it is mentioned that the case history of a complaint should be available. The tender also calls for “customer data integration”, which reads “Allow contacts to be exported as leads or cases in third-party tools”. It doesn’t list what third-party tools are.

Analysis: After the data collection, the conversations are analyzed according to mood (good / bad / netural), target group intelligence, demographics, competitor benchmarking, industry trend monitoring, content, fan analysis and more. The tender calls for hourly analyzes to be submitted and popular topics to be presented in the form of word clouds and heatmaps.

Raising a ticket: The system should be able to select, analyze, separate, respond to relevant contributions and automatically create a ticket for the citizen about the complaint.

Social media management for the government: The tender also requires the monitoring platform to understand user habits and tailor exclusive social media management strategies for each social media network. For this purpose, the platform also shows social analytics reports (page views, post impressions, etc.).

How the complaint resolution would work

The system is integrated into systems already used by the HPSEDC via APIs (Application Programming Interface) and exchanges information with them.

Ultimately, this would be how the complaint would be resolved –

  • The system would allow complaints to be prioritized based on keywords tracked through social media monitoring.
  • As soon as a ticket has been created, the citizen will also receive a notification – this can be done by email, SMS or WhatsApp message.
  • It would provide an interface for “key personnel” to manage all incoming cases with actions like close, ignore or reassign. It would also provide access to historical data of the case, if any.
  • If necessary, it would refer a complaint to the authorities.

Reservations about privacy

The tender mentions data protection once throughout the document as part of the software’s exit management process – this is a process where the bidder or supplier of the monitoring software would stop implementing, operating, and managing the project. Since this would take place over a longer period of time, the bidder has to submit a list of all employees who are responsible for providing the services to the HPSEDC at the beginning of the exit management period, in accordance with various laws, in particular on data protection.

The document does not list any other data protection-related restrictions with regard to the type of data collected, the storage period, etc.

Less restrictive means of achieving similar goals: Expert in technology policy

According to Kazim Rizvi, co-founder of The Dialogue – a technology policy think tank, while using complaint resolution platforms can be useful, there are less restrictive means of achieving similar goals. “Government handles can develop chatbots / implement direct complaints – instead of creating a tool that could cause panic. Every governance system has the project of confidence building in government as its goal, ”he told MediaNama.

He had three main concerns:

Effects on freedom of expression: Rizvi said the real-time monitoring of conversations on social media and other platforms suggested by the tool is worrying.

“This widespread surveillance could restrict the freedom of expression that legitimate purposes require for violating the Indian Constitution,” Rizvi told MediaNama.

Fear of abuse: Rizvi said there were no restrictions that could prevent the tool from being misused. “In the absence of a robust surveillance law and unclear definitions of ‘complaints’, it seems premature to develop this tool,” he said.

No defined scope: He also pointed out that the scope was not specified in the tender. Any possible interference that could violate other fundamental rights must be carefully defined and narrowly constructed. “A broad definition with unlimited power – anything given to the executive can do more harm than good,” he said.

Supreme Court criticism of social media surveillance

So far, the central government has made nine attempts to create a hub or tool for monitoring social media.

In 2018, the government published a tender to set up a social media monitoring hub that can act as a search engine, web crawler, and social media crawler to crawl various hashtags and keywords on social media platforms . The Trinamool Congress MP, Mahua Moitra, had subsequently challenged this to the Supreme Court, which led to his withdrawal following criticism from the Hub Court.

Judge Chandrachud, as part of a three-judge bench that had heard the matter said that if the government tried to “monitor every single tweet and WhatsApp message, we are moving towards a surveillance state”.

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