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A Surveillance Program To Spy On Our Loved Ones?

by Srishti Saha
A Surveillance Program To Spy On Our Loved Ones?

February 26, 2021

The Ministry Of Home Affairs has already put a surveillance system in place. For this cyber surveillance project, a volunteer need not even submit their KYC details. It is a covert cyber surveillance system, which was recently rolled out in J&K and Tripura.

A volunteer model surveillance program

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A volunteer model surveillance program is being applied in the states of J&k and Tripura.

The Union Ministry in India has come up with a new surveillance program. This program shall systematically monitor and reduce crimes against children, women and prevent attempts to disturb the law-and-order situation.

The project titled Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (14C) has the Indian government urging citizens to register in any of the three categories as cyber volunteers – Cyber volunteer unlawful content flagger, cyber awareness promoter and cyber expert.

The first category will raise the alarm about unlawful and disorderly content online like rape, terrorism, child pornography, anti-national activities etc. The second group is targeted to raise awareness about cybercrimes amongst vulnerable groups like the elderly, children, women and the rural population. Volunteers in the final, i.e. cyber expert category, will be dealing with cybercrime, network forensics, malware analysis etc.

The first category will raise the alarm about unlawful and disorderly content online like rape, terrorism, child pornography, anti-national activities etc. The second group is targeted to raise awareness about cybercrimes amongst vulnerable groups like the elderly, children, women and the rural population. Volunteers in the final, i.e. cyber expert category, will be dealing with cybercrime, network forensics, malware analysis etc.

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Volunteers have to submit the details as per the KYC for the second and third guidelines.

According to the Indian government, there is no personal information required to register for the first category. However, the other two categories will require details submission to the government as per the KYC (Know Your Customers) guidelines.

The government strictly maintains that there are no monetary benefits of this project, and it is strictly on a participant basis. No volunteer will use this program for any commercial gain, and volunteers are prohibited from mentioning the Ministry Of Home Affairs or claiming to have any association with the ministry anywhere.

This project has already been put to the test in Jammu and Kashmir, and Tripura, where the government has issued guidelines for people to volunteer. A J&K police source was quoted saying that the project was rolled out last week in militancy-hit J&K. 

Other such surveillance programs

In the vast realm of politics, this isn’t new. History shows examples of many such governments who have used similar programs. In one of the most popular surveillance instances in history, the Socialist Unity Party of Germany in the 1950s set up a ministry for state security. This ministry was called the Stasi. It was a network of reliable 2 lakh informers who spied on friends, relatives and colleagues. This bold move was undertaken to do away with all forms of dissent.  

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The secret ministry Stasi's ID card of Putin.

Similarly, in 2018, the Indian Ministry of Information and Broadcasting proposed to set up a “Social Media Hub”, wherein they would employ media person to become surveillance systems on a contractual basis. The ministry had to withdraw its proposal after the Supreme Court of India ruled, saying it will lead to the creation of a surveillance state.

In yet another incident, the Uttarakhand Police decided that social medial behaviour should be scrutinized before providing people with passports. Passports of people could be withheld if they were found to be posting any content that can be categorized as “anti-national” or “anti-social”.

As we have seen, history is proof that such measures have been used by governments before. India, although still a developing nation, has been leading up to such a project considering the previous proposals by various Indian Government agents.

Concerning aspects of the surveillance project

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Indian government are searching for indivisuals to act as online spy for them.

The guidelines issued by Jammu & Kashmir and Tripura police were to report activities that qualified as “radicalization” or “unlawful activities”. The police or government did not define what these activities were. As a result, it puts too much power in the hands of one volunteer to decide whether a person’s cyber activities can be termed as  incriminating.

A citizen usually exercising their freedom of speech can be flagged for anti-national sentiments, even though they might be simply voicing their opinions against new policies by the ruling party. The crimes to be flagged lie in a judicial grey area, and therefore, the purview of such crimes should not be decided by anyone.

All of this leads to a greater cause of concern for reduced freedom to exercise free speech. One of the most basic, constitutionally supported rights remains to express dissent openly. With such measures in place and most of the modus operandi in the grey, it might discourage people from expressing their opinions or criticisms candidly. In the long run, it will hurt the very essence of democracy at its heart. 

In fact, on looking closely, this project has not been introduced without any legal framework, and there is a greater possibility of misuse. Information regarding misuse of this program and simple procedures like withdrawing complaints is not even provided. This creates a greater possibility of misuse and most likely, a case of harassment and torture.

On the other hand, the need for such a project remains unclear. All the volunteers are asked to keep an eye out for content against sovereignty, safety, and defence of India, content disturbing social and national harmony and content pertaining to abuse. However, the law already provides remedies for such activities, and anyone can go to the police and report any of the aforementioned activities.

It is important to note that digital platforms have become an indispensable part of our lives. They are an extension of our identity, and a peer surveillance program endangers the possibility of people expressing their opinions online.

The right to internet access has been declared as a fundamental right by the supreme court. This, along with the freedom to express openly, should always be accounted for in every new policy.

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