Q Why is it in News?
The Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), a digital liberties organisation, has written to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) that the cyber crime volunteers concept will lead to a “culture of surveillance and constant suspicion in society creating potential social distrust”.
Q What is Cyber Crime Volunteers Concept?
- Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C) has envisaged the Cyber Crime Volunteers Program to bring together citizens with passion to serve the nation on a single platform and contribute in the fight against cybercrime in the country.
- The programme targets to rope in around 500 persons to flag unlawful content on the Internet.
- Good Samaritans are welcomed to register as Cyber Crime Volunteers in the role of unlawful content flaggers for facilitating law enforcement agencies in identifying, reporting and removal of illegal/unlawful online content.
- Volunteers have been advised to study Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, which deals with freedom of expression.
- Further, the volunteer shall “maintain strict confidentiality of tasks assigned/carried out by him/her”. The State Nodal Officer of States/UTs also reserves the right to take legal action against the Volunteer, in case of violation of terms and conditions of the Program.
Q What is meant by Unlawful Content?
- Unlawful Content may be defined as any content that violates any law in force in India. Such content may fall under following broad categories:
- Against sovereignty and integrity of India.
- Against defence of India.
- Against Security of the State.
- Against friendly relations with foreign States.
- Content aimed at disturbing Public Order.
- Disturbing communal harmony.
- Child Sex Abuse material.
Q What are the Concerns raised?
- Chances of Misuse: There is no information available on how the Ministry will ensure that the program is not misused by certain elements to extract misguided personal or political vendettas.
- There is no process in place for withdrawal of complaints once submitted.
- Cyber-Vigilantism: The programme will essentially result in a similar situation to the one which East Germany was in the 1950s.
- The state asking citizens to report their fellow citizens would lead to cyber-vigilantism, and would lead to peers turning against their peers to snitch on them.
The Ministry has failed to clearly define unlawful content and content which would relate to “anti-national” activities.
- This could allow the volunteers to exercise far more discretion than is necessary and report on citizens who are well within their rights to post content which is critical of the State.
- Such a program seems to be in direct violation of the decision of the Supreme Court in Shreya Singhal v Union of India (2013) which highlights the need to ensure that overbroad restrictions on online speech are not used as a tool by the State to criminalise free speech on the internet.