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Will seize passports of NRIs who post ‘hateful’ content on social media: Hyderabad top cop

The police commissioner’s disproportionate move to restrain online hate speech may not pass the legal test, experts say.

In a statement that has raised a few eyebrows, Hyderabad Police Commissioner CV Anand recently said that the passports of non-resident Indians who are found posting “hateful and derogatory posts” on social media platforms will be seized.

Anand, who recently took over as the new Commissioner of Hyderabad City Police from Anjani Kumar, made these comments while addressing his first video conference with other police officials of the Commissionerate. Apart from seizing NRIs’ passports, their visas too will be cancelled as per legal provisions, Anand said in a press release.

The statement comes at a time when there has been increased scrutiny over sensitive, political content being shared on social media platforms. A while ago, several people including politicians and media organisations were booked by the UP police for sharing an ‘unverified’ video of an elderly Muslim man who was subjected to assault in Ghaziabad’s Loni district.

Speedy trial for those who spread fake news on social media

Anand instructed officers to be strict when it comes to social media harassment. In a press release, Anand said that those found harassing people by “morphing their photos and posting them on social media platforms with derogatory comments should be dealt with strictly.”

In addition to registering cases against those spreading fake news on social media, he expressed the desire for a speedy trial.

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Decision to seize passports is disproportionate and may not stand test of law: Experts

While there is an absolute need to restrain hateful social media posts, the proposed action of seizing passports and cancelling visas is not within the purview of police and may not stand the test of law — Shabbeer Ahmed, Partner, IndusLaw

Ahmed explained that the Right to Travel Abroad is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution and that the travel documents can only be revoked by passport authorities under Passport Act.

“The police is free to register cases under the relevant provisions of Information Technology Act and IPC on account of posting hateful social media posts but seizure of passports looks disproportionate,” he added.

“India has a judicial mechanism to keep law and order in check and it should be on the courts to decide whether or not to take action or what action needs to be taken against such individuals involved in hateful comments or posts on social media instead of police taking arbitrary actions,” said Mukul Chopra, Senior Partner at Victoriam Legalis – Advocates & Solicitors.

Ex-Police Commissioner had also made similar comments

In July, the previous Hyderabad City Police Commissioner Anjani Kumar had said that the onus lies on a person to determine if a piece of information is right or wrong before uploading it on social media and added that if the uploaded content is found to be wrong, then action will be taken against them. This statement came ahead of the Bakrid festival which in the past had seen several issues, often transpiring in social media, over animal sacrifice which is an important ritual of the festival.

“Social media is a thing that gets misused a lot. We had booked cases against such people earlier, and we would also like to share that last month two people have been jailed for six months because of this. If you are uploading something on social media, then the responsibility is on you to determine if it’s right or wrong; if you have uploaded wrong content, then cases will be booked against you,” Kumar said while talking to the media during a Bakrid preparatory event in Hyderabad.

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

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