The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has started a programme, where the citizens will be recruited as volunteers to identify and report the illegal and unlawful content on social media platforms, including child pornography, rape crime, terrorism, and anti-national activities.
Until now, the government relied on the cyber police to watch over social media or address online crime.
According to The Indian Express report, the programme's trial will be done in Jammu and Kashmir and Tripura, and its scale would be marked depending on the feedback.
The Tripura Police had notified about the volunteer program last year, November 28, while the Jammu and Kashmir Police issued a press release last week, on February 3, inviting people to sign up as volunteers.
According to the reports, the volunteers can register in three categories - 'Cyber Volunteer unlawful content flagger', 'cyber awareness promoter' and 'cyber expert'.
Cyber Volunteer Unlawful Content Flagger will identify online illegal and unlawful content such as child pornography, rape cases, militancy, radicalisation, and anti-national activities.
Cyber Awareness Promoter will be responsible for creating awareness about cybercrime among citizens, including vulnerable groups like women, children and elderly, and the rural population.
Cyber Expert will deal with domains of cybercrime, forensics, network forensics, malware analysis, memory analysis and cryptography.
According to the report, volunteers are also 'prohibited from using the name or claiming association" with MHA on any public platform.
Under this programme, the MHA's Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C) will act as a primary point, while volunteers can register themselves with their states or union territories.
To participate, they will be required to furnish personal details, including name, details of the parents, contact details and email address. However, these will not be verified separately.
Another directive given by the MHA states that a volunteer shall 'maintain strict confidentiality of tasks assigned or carried out by him /her.' The State Nodal Officer of States/UTs can take legal action against the volunteer, in case of violation of terms and conditions of Cyber Volunteer Program," the media quoted a cybercrime division notice.
Though the program has been officially announced, the government has not set any legal framework on what content or activity is constituted as 'anti-national'.
The Logical Indian Take
The notification is problematic in multiple aspects.
Given that those who disagree with the government are often charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), detained or jailed, the program can be misused to silence dissenting voices without accountability.
Further, flagging content as 'anti-national', without an actual definition of what constitutes 'anti-national' behaviour, speech or work, will result in arbitrary actions by citizen volunteers.
"Giving people the option to report fellow citizens gives too much power without adequate checks and balances. What if I report you and get it reported by multiple people to settle my differences with you?" a senior lawyer was quoted in the media.
Finally, the program runs the risk of polarisation, of pitting people against one another, in addition to increasing surveillance and monitoring online.