The Congress on Monday attacked the Narendra Modi government over a Ministry of Information and Broadcasting proposal to install chips in television set-top boxes to ascertain viewership data.The opposition party has dubbed the move a serious breach of privacy and the “next stage of surveillance”, terming the BJP-led NDA government a “surveillance sarkar”. In a Tweet, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala alleged that Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani wanted to now know what shows people watch within the four walls of their bedrooms. “BREAKING! The Next Stage of Surveillance by BJP Revealed! “In a serious breach of privacy, Smriti Iraniji wants to know what show you watch on your TV, within the four walls of your bedroom, without your permission! Why? “‘Ab ki baar surveillance sarkar. Nijta ka haq taar taar’ (This time, surveillance government, the right to privacy broken into pieces),” he tweeted.The Information and Broadcasting Ministry has proposed installing a chip in new television set-top boxes which will provide data about channels watched and for how long.A senior official of the ministry said the move is aimed at getting “more authentic” viewership figures for every channel.”This would help advertisers and the DAVP to spend their advertising expenditure wisely. Only those channels which are widely watched will get promoted,” the official added.The Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP) is the nodal agency of the government for advertising by various ministries and its organisations.The Information and Broadcasting Ministry told the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), “It is also proposed to ask DTH operators to install a chip in the new set-top boxes which can give data about channels watched and their duration.” The proposal was part of the ministry’s response to a number of recommendations made by the TRAI on issues related to new direct-to-home licenses. In the proposal, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry has told the TRAI, “It is also proposed to ask DTH operators to install a chip in the new set-top boxes which can give data about channels watched and their duration.” The proposal was part of the ministry’s response to a number of recommendations made by the TRAI on issues related to new direct-to-home licenses.The official said the ministry also “feels that Doordarshan viewership is under-reported” and if the chip is installed, it would give the real viewership figures of the channel.The move is seen to end the monopoly of the Broadcast Audience Research Council India (BARC), which measures the television audience preferences in the country.The ministry official alleged that the BARC is “almost like a monopoly and there is no alternative” and it “does not reveal how they arrive at the viewership figures, methodology they apply and the area of survey”.The official said the ministry discussed the possibility of procuring about 300 people meter and randomly installing them to verify the veracity of BARC data, but 300 meter were too small number to meaningfully compare and verify data.He said the BARC measures viewership by installing 30,000 people meter, which are soldered to the TV’s mother board.The official said nobody would allow such thing to be done on their television sets and thus there were concerned about the genuineness of the assessment done through volunteers.The BARC, however, refuted the accusations.”We are a joint industry body that was set up in close consultation with all stakeholders, including government representatives and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). Our data collection and reporting methodology was arrived at post these consultations and consensus. TRAI is telecom and broadcasting sector watchdog.The TRAI, in its response to the ministry’s suggestions, recently said, Regarding asking DTH operators to install a chip in new set-top boxes, it is stated that this is a new issue and cannot be part of the reference.”If the MIB (Ministry of Information and Broadcasting) desires TRAI’s recommendation on this issue, it may send a separate reference to TRAI as per the provisions of the TRAI Act 1997, it said.(With PTI inputs)

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‘Ab ki baar surveillance sarkar’: Congress blasts Modi govt as I&B Ministry plans chips in new TV set-top boxes