The ADGP’s directive comes just months after two people in Manipur were booked under NSA for their Facebook posts that criticised the use of cow dung as a treatment for COVID-19.
The Manipur Police’s Additional DGP (Intelligence) issued instructions last week to all district Superintendents of Police (SP) to set up “social media cells” to monitor posts on various social media platforms and flag any “unlawful contents, communal posts, etc.,” according to an Indian Express report on Tuesday.
The report said that the instruction sent as a departmental message on July 15, asks the social media cell’s members to-
- Bring to ADGP’s notice all unlawful and communal “posts/uploads/comments posted in all dialects of Manipur” on various social media platforms.
- Submit a fortnightly report on the findings starting from the 2nd fortnight of July and subsequently on the 3rd and 18th of each month.
- Encourages members to approach the Cyber Crime Police Station for any technical help they may need.
- It asks the notified SPs to create such a cell immediately “if they had not earlier” and “prompt legal action should be taken whenever required.”
In its report, the Indian Express said that the Manipur Police had created its social media cell following an order from the Director-General of Police, Manipur in 2020. The additional DGP (intelligence), Manipur has been heading that cell, with all the district SPs, including SP CID, as members.
Despite several attempts, the ADGP could not be reached for comment. K. Meghachandra Singh, PRO, Manipur Police told MediaNama that while he could not confirm whether such a message was issued as it is only circulated among SPs, social media is regularly monitored to flag any problematic content. “As a (former) District SP I know that it was our duty to check what’s happening- it is done everywhere in the country- checking who is writing what incriminating things. Public order is our domain and we have to check all these things,” he said.
Why this matters? Earlier this year, in May, Imphal-based journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem and activist Erendro Leichombam, were booked by Manipur Police under the stringent National Security Act (NSA) for their Facebook posts. According to The Print, the two had posted about the inefficacy of cow dung and cow urine as a treatment for Covid-19, following the death of BJP state president S. Tikendra Singh due to the virus.
“Cow dung, cow urine didn’t work. Groundless argument. Tomorrow, I will eat fish,” – Wangkhem’s Facebook post translated .
Following a Supreme Court order, both Leichombam and Wangkhem were subsequently released from jail.
Granting Leichonbam bail, the SC bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud said that, ‘We are of the view that the continued detention of the petitioner before this Court would amount to a violation of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution.’
Provisions under new IT rules for law enforcement
The new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Codes) Rules, 2021 that came into effect from May 25, 2021, also has provisions for law enforcement agencies to enable identification of the “first originator of the information” as a last resort mechanism in cases of threats to law and order, national security and sovereignty, etc.
According to these rules, the intermediaries have to –
- Remove or disable access to information less than 36 hours of getting a court order or from an appropriate government agency under Section 79 of the IT Act.
- Provide information for verification of identity, or assist any government agency for crime prevention and investigations no later than 72 hours of receiving a lawful order.
- Maintain records of content that it has disabled access to or removed for 180 days for investigation purposes. This period can be increased by a court order or by a government agency authorised to do so.
Significant Social Media Intermediaries or social media intermediaries with more than 50 Lakh registered Indian users will also have to appoint a nodal person of contact for 24X7 coordination with law enforcement agencies and officers to ensure compliance with their orders.
Social media monitoring by law enforcement: A pattern
Several states such as Maharashtra and Bengal had started their own social media monitoring initiatives within their state police departments. Earlier this year, Delhi Police had also monitored social media in the days preceding and later, during the investigation of the clashes that erupted on January 26, at the Red Fort this year.
In 2018, Scroll had reported that the Central government uses an Advanced Application for Social Media Analytics or AASMA tool made by the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology. According to the report, the tool could collect and analyse “live data” on users from “multiple social networks” including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and Google+. It can track social media profiles, their posts, and networks of connections to identify “top users”, conduct “sentiment analysis” of their posts to categorise them as either “positive” or “negative”. This was reportedly used by 40 government departments.
The same year, the government issued a tender for creating a social media monitoring hub that would be able to work as a search engine, a web crawler, and a social media crawler to search various hashtags and keywords across social media platforms. This was challenged in the Supreme Court by TMC MP Mahua Moitra and subsequently withdrawn following the court’s statement that such tenders move India towards becoming a ‘surveillance state’.
Subsequently, in 2020, another similar tender for social media surveillance was floated making it the ninth time that such an attempt was made.
- Govt Put Out Social Media Monitoring Tenders At Least 7 Times: Report
- Social Media Under Scanner In Telangana, Top Cop Warns ‘Rabble Rousers’ Of Strict Action