Careless Whispers: Parallels of civilian informants in social media user-reporting policies, but govt must walk a tightrope on this

By: |
February 10, 2021 5:15 AM

As far as prosecution is concerned, the government will have to exercise careful discretion, beyond just the face-value.

So, the potential for abuse is high. The government needs to walk a tightrope; a misstep and the fall would be absolute.So, the potential for abuse is high. The government needs to walk a tightrope; a misstep and the fall would be absolute.

Government seeking volunteers to report cyber content for certain violations could draw parallels with oppressive regimes—the Gestapo infamously relied on ‘citizen informants’ as did the Soviet state. But the fact is that Twitter, Facebook et al ask the same of users: Report abuse or flag any post that violates policy. So, there is a benevolent, even beneficial, modern-day parallel of such civilian monitoring.

As per The Indian Express, MHA has notified a programme allowing people to register as cyber-volunteers, and report to the government illegal and unlawful content, including child pornography, rape threats, terrorism, ‘radicalisation’ and ‘anti-national activities’. But, broad sweep, catch-all categories is where things could go terribly wrong—and even lead to oppression (the state has substantive penal powers, a Facebook, at the worst,can impose a ban). If differing ideologies, lawful dissent action, and, as recent history shows, even sharp criticism, is to be termed as ‘radicalisation’ or ‘anti-national’, the government will have no leg to stand on.

There are enough instances from the immediate and distant history of ruling political dispensation abusing the powers to shut up critics.

As far as prosecution is concerned, the government will have to exercise careful discretion, beyond just the face-value. The Justice Srikrishna committee report shows that despite an anti-abuse procedure governing phone-tapping, the review committee has to deal with 15,000-18,000 interception requests every meeting.

So, the potential for abuse is high. The government needs to walk a tightrope; a misstep and the fall would be absolute.

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