Censorship

The Pune Police have inaugurated a Social Media Lab to help monitor issues related to unlawful practices and activities on networking websites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, reports the Times of India.

The new cell will consist of 18 policemen at the 24/7 lab working in 8 hour shifts. The police mention that the policemen have been trained over the last 2 months to monitor the movements of suspicious people. Additionally a software solution developed by Intelligent Quotient Security System will apparently monitor suspicious activities and alert the cops to take direct action. The Pune Police had help from the Mumbai Police which has had such a program operational for over two years.

Interestingly the Pune Police mention that in cases of hate speech, it will take prompt action by ‘deleting’ the offending website. It’s not clear if the agency means to say blocked (more likely), as it would be almost impossible to delete websites entirely, even those located in India, let alone those on servers outside the country.

What is hate speech?
Beside the obvious lack of understanding by saying the police will delete websites, the other problem is it’s really not clear what will be defined as hate speech. Neither do the police mention what ‘prompt action’ will be taken other than blocking or ‘deleting’ the so called websites. Additionally, other than hate speech, the cops also promise to take ‘prompt action’ against ponzi schemes, spreading rumours and financial frauds.

While the move might be well intentioned, cops in India have a terrible record as far as making frivolous arrests goes. Just earlier this month, a Patrika journalist was arrested for allegedly making confrontational comments against some members of Samajik Ekta Manch on WhatsApp, days after two people in Madhya Pradesh were arrested for sharing a morphed image of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat on Facebook and WhatsApp. Similarly, 6 months ago, an administrator of a WhatsApp group along with three others had been arrested in Latur district in Maharashtra over objectionable content of videos of cow slaughtering and criticizing Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Also read: Supreme court upholds states’ right to ban mobile Internet services

MediaNama’s take: Can we then trust the cops to distinguish between posts that are offensive and criticism? This development also comes at a time when blocking websites without providing a reason has become the norm rather than an exception and there’s been a significant increase in the government actions to censor the web. With no clear directive other than ‘curbing hate speech’, such initiatives can be used to curb free speech rather than to curb violence that may arise from such incorrect information.

Also read: HTTP 451 error code now the standard for legally blocked content

National media cell: Last month, we reported that the Indian government planned to set up a media cell which would track content online, and ‘counter’ news and comments which are negative or provocative in its opinion. The proposal would monitor and analyse blogs, web portals of TV channels and newspapers and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube etc.

Section 66A struck down: Exactly a year ago, the Supreme Court ruled on a series of cases challenging the IT Act striking down Section 66A for being unconstitutional, upholding Section 69 in its entirety, which allows the government to block websites, and also upholding Section 79 and its rules, saying that it needs to be read down, and a court order or a government order needs to be taken. An intermediary needs a court order or a government order for getting content taken down.

Image source: Flickr user opensource.com