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Smriti Irani’s I&B ministry media unit wants to track movement of journalists through RFID

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Press Information Bureau wrote to the home ministry in January asking if media accreditation cards could be replaced with RFID cards to enhance security.

New Delhi: The Press Information Bureau, the central government’s nodal body for official communication, is working on a proposal to track the movement of journalists at government buildings and offices through radio-frequency identification (RFID) cards, ThePrint has learnt.

The PIB is the government’s media wing under the Smriti Irani-led information and broadcasting ministry. The ministry triggered a huge controversy with its order Monday to punish journalists for publishing or propagating “fake news”. The furore against the move caused Prime Minister Narendra Modi to order a roll-back in less than 24 hours.

In another proposal that is certain to raise the hackles of journalists in the national capital, the PIB wrote to the union home ministry in January asking if the accreditation cards it issues to journalists could be replaced with RFID cards.

The home ministry is considering the proposal, although top ministry sources told ThePrint that it could be impractical to implement.

Frank Noronha, the Principal Director-General of PIB, confirmed the move. But he also said there has been no progress on the proposal. PIB, he said, is only exploring options available for improving the security, use, look and other features of the existing accreditation card.

“We routinely explore what options are available to improve the card to facilitate free and easy entry and exit into government buildings on the basis of different technological advances,” Noronha told ThePrint in response to queries. “However, nothing has been done to this effect as yet.”

A home ministry spokesman did not respond to queries until the time of publication of this report.

What is RFID and how can it track journalists?

Press accreditation cards are issued by the government-appointed Central Press Accreditation Committee, which is headed by the director-general of the PIB. Nearly 3,000 cards are issued annually to reporters, photographers, TV cameramen and editors after a stringent vetting process.

RFID technology uses electromagnetic fields to identify and track tags attached to objects. The tags contain electronically-stored information. The technology is used in smart cards and tags such as modern-day vehicle registration certificates, driving licences, metro rail cards and even toll tags.

At present, journalists visiting government buildings have to only show their accreditation cards to the security guards. If ‘passive’ RFID is implemented, they would need to swipe/punch the card at the entrance. On the other hand, ‘active’ RFID technology would mean that a sensor picks up the frequency of the card and either lets one pass through or alerts security. Either way, the government can track journalists’ entry, exit and possibly who they are meeting.

The PIB has been contemplating increasing the security features of the card after several confidential documents were leaked from the petroleum ministry in 2015.

Problems in implementing RFID proposal

Home ministry sources said carrying out such an exercise would need massive new infrastructure and a huge budget. Security turnstile gates and other infrastructure work would have to be put in place for all the 56 buildings under the MHA’s ambit, apart from procuring RFID cards for thousands of journalists.

There would be other logistical difficulties too, such as differentiating journalists from the lakhs of other government employees accessing the buildings every day, the sources said.

The RFID proposal, or the now-aborted move to regulate fake news, are not the first such by the NDA government that give the impression it wants to regulate the media.

Earlier, the I&B ministry had issued an order warning officers to refrain from talking to the media without permissions from relevant authorities or face action, citing the PIB’s Information Dissemination Manual of 2017.

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  1. I at a loss to understand why The Print should carry a fake story and what’s the intention of Shekar Guptaji. The reliability and genuinity of news reports have become a thing of the past. There is no denying the fact that Smriti Irani is leaving no stone unturned to stifle the voice of the press by different means. Is it show that nothing can stop The Print to carry reports or stories at their will and whim.

  2. The headline is far more sensational than the actual contents of the article. I am not clear how you are getting the impression that government is trying to regulate the media by merely thinking of giving cards to accredited journalists which records which government building they entered at what time and left at what time. And even this, is just a discussion item at PIB, on which there is no progress. It is unfortunate that The Print is rapidly descending into the realm of fake news.

  3. महान पत्रकारिता आज देखने को मिली जो पत्रकार रोज TV पर पानी पी कर भारत के चुने हुए प्रधानमंत्री को सुबह से शाम गाली देते और सलमान लालू जैसे दोषी लोगों के गुण-गाण करते देखे जा रहे है।
    FAKE है तो है कहा?

  4. Do you even understand how RFID works?
    Based purely on what you said about RFID card replacing the non tech id cards, if considered true, is only to make duplication, forging and tempering of them difficult.
    Please don’t paint technology as per your political opinion.

  5. So like the Bhim army or the Karni Sena or some random sect followers of Agra or Sirsa.. is this like yet another Bloc that must rise unitedly to safeguard “own” turf against the oppressor? Why not? Can the world of journalism be any less holier than that of judiciary? So what if justice keeps languishing in the lybranthine corridors of courts and blind procedures, so what if the “news” gets perpetrated/planted bereft of any “truth”, the principles of demand and supply will keep on feeding these hollow institutions like any other trade house feeds on the poor consumer.. Sadly, these other pillars of democracy have done precious little themselves to put their own houses in order. Haven’t they decayed as much as the other two, the lagislature and the executive? Competitive corruption is a norm, self correction be damned. Hail Democracy!

  6. Reversing Irani’s threat to deroster journalists for so-called “Fake News”was a planned tactic by the Modi govt to purport the PM as a great defender of democracy! Seeing her general tone and tenor, including denying Prasar Bharati employees their salary, and now with her intention to track journalists, the unlettered Irani (remember, Modi made this 12th pass gasbag who lost her Lok Sabha election his minister in charge of educating the largest population of aspirational youth on earth) should be awarded her Hitler moustache!

  7. Interesting that The Print worries about tracking of journalist through RFID, which can happen only within government offices. However, those skeptical of Aadhaar, which can be used to literally lay out the entire life of a person on a nice little dashboard, were disparagingly dismissed as belonging to the ‘Wine and Cheese’ club. Someday, hopefully, we’ll read in “National Interest” why threat of tracking through RFID is more sinister than that of surveillance through Aadhaar! Till then, more power to you to raise voice against any violation of individual’s privacy.

  8. We are getting maximum government, for sure. Whether maximum governance as well remains unclear. Foreign policy was supposed to be one of the major success stories. Ms Jyoti Malhotra’s column in IE today presents a forensic report card for the neighbourhood.

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