Govt cyber cell to watch social media posts

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GURGAON: Your social mediaposts are under close watch.

The Haryana government has decided to ratchet up its cyber policing with a centre for digital investigations that it will inaugurate on Wednesday in Gurgaon. The Digital Investigation Training and Analysis Centre (Ditac) will focus exclusively on social media content, picking up anything it feels is “inflammatory” or “illegal” in nature and notify the government.

Ditac is the first centre of its kind in the country because it will not function under the police but the crime branch of the state CID, in collaboration with the National Technical Research Organisation. A similar social media monitoring cell does operate in Delhi but it’s Delhi Police that holds its charge.

A government source said the need for a specialised centre to monitor social media and messages circulated widely via mobiles was felt after social media was used to fan violence during the Jat quota agitation earlier this year. Fresh protests have been announced from January 29 next year.

But there are concerns that Ditac could also become a tool for the government to browbeat criticism and dissent. INLD, Haryana’s main opposition party, questioned the state’s motive. “It’s a threat to freedom of speech and expression,” said the district spokesperson of INLD, Kapil Tyagi. “It’s an act to harass anybody who wants to raise her/his voice against the government on social media.”

Ditac, situated on the third floor of Traffic Tower in Sushant Lok 1, will be inaugurated by chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar. It will track activities of users on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms across the state. Set up at a cost of Rs 22 crore, Ditac has been primarily funded by the Centre, according to the source. It will be run by a 22-member team, who will not only scrutinise posts but also track down their origin and assess the impact on law and order if the post is inflammatory in nature. Ditac is not empowered to make arrests or register cases. It can only notify the government.

A senior police official, who declined to be named, said a centre like Ditac is necessary at a time when there is a push to digitise the economy. “The government shut down internet in many districts during and after the Jat agitation. But that’s not a solution, especially when we are trying to digitise the economy. A centre like this is a viable solution,” the officer said.

Ditac will be supervised by IG (CID) Anil Kumar Rao and the Gurgaon cell will be monitored by IG (security) Sanjay Kumar. Asked about Ditac, Kumar told TOI: “In today’s time, social media is a very important tool of communication and we need to know about what is happening there. The youth, even in rural areas, is involved in social media and there are a lot of factors influencing them.”

Vidya Raja, a lawyer and member of Facebook group Gurgaon Moms, said she was concerned that a centre like Ditac had been set up. “It is worrying. Facebook groups have been self-regulatory till now. I think that is the best practice as an external monitoring agency might be a threat to privacy of Facebook users as these groups are mostly closed groups. To access information of such a group, they (monitoring officials) need to pose as someone, which is again a violation.”

Former state minister and Congressman Ajay Yadav said, “While public posts on Facebook and Twitter can be monitored, monitoring personal posts is a threat to privacy.”

Anuroop Omkar, a lawyer dealing in cybercrime, said the government must tread with extreme caution. “The IT Act requires the social network hosting content to ensure no objectionable content is posted. The Supreme Court has struck down Section 66A of IT Act which could lead to imprisonment of a person posting objectionable content online. There needs to be some monitoring to discourage content that threatens internal aggression and national security but discretion should be exercised by the government so that freedom of expression is not curtailed.”