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Mumbai Police Has Social Media Labs to Analyse ‘Trends of Social Minds’: City Police Commissioner at Mumbai Tech Event

Interestingly, when asked whether these labs were part of the cybercrime labs in the city, the officer said that they are different and refused to give further details.

The Mumbai police has social media labs to keep a track of social media trends and activities for “predictive policing”, the Commissioner of Mumbai Police Vivek Phansalkar revealed while speaking at the Mumbai Tech Event on February 18, 2024. Predictive policing essentially refers to algorithmic analysis of a vast amount of information–collected through usage of CCTVs, or facial recognition technology or even social media information–to predict and prevent potential future crimes.

“Yes, there is a lot of predictive policing…A lot of you are on the social media, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Therefore, it has become imperative for the police to have a social media lab. We have social media labs where we have very good software and we keep on analysing trends of social minds as to what is going on in the society. And then we try to find out whether some problem is coming. And then we analyse, depict, and learn some patterns, and then deploy our resources efficiently and effectively,” the Commissioner stated.

When asked whether these labs were part of the cybercrime labs in the city, the officer said that they are different and refused to give further details about the social media labs. We have filed a Right to Information request to acquire more information about the labs.

‘Close to 6000 surveillance cameras in the city’

The Commissioner also informed that currently the police have deployed close to 6000 surveillance cameras, manning the streets and the hotspots of Mumbai. Reiterating that “preventive and predictive policing” is essential, the officer stated that under phase 2 of the CCTV surveillance project, additional 3000 cameras will go live by March.

“We also have a cyber lab at the Bandra Kurla Complex. We have 13 zones, like 13 districts in the Mumbai city. And every zone, we have equipped a zonal office with the latest possible technology and tools available for cyber investigation. It would mean extraction of data, it would be recovering deleted files or recovering hidden files because primarily our focus is investigation and with technology, investigation is becoming more and more difficult. It’s like a lock and key affair. Every time we invent a new lock and the thief invents a new key,” Phansalkar noted.

Touching upon various types of cybercrimes and challenges related to deepfakes and AI content, the officer suggested the audiences that they must avoid any contact with strangers on the internet or otherwise. However, whether it is possible in a digital and social media ecosystem wherein a lot of interactions practically occur between strangers, is worth questioning. Secondly, at a time when cybercrime perpetrators do not really approach the victims as absolute strangers and employ various means of deception, whether avoiding interaction with strangers is really a solution, is another question to ponder on.

Why does it matter? While police departments across the country are adopting technological tools with varying capabilities to tackle cybercrimes, they are also increasingly looking to use tech for predicting or preventive policing through CCTVs, facial recognition tech, social media analysis etc. In an interview with MediaNama, the Chennai police had revealed that they have acquired ‘Social Analytics Suit’, which provides the law enforcement with information about an individual’s social media profiles and footprint across multiple platforms. This indicates that a social media analytics tool can potentially enable the police to indulge in mass collection of social media metadata. Technologies like FRT have proven to undermine people’s fundamental right to privacy, and freedom of movement in the past. With capabilities to enable social media surveillance, there are growing dangers of greater censorship and a threat to an individual’s right to exercise their freedom of speech and expression freely.

Plans to profile social media users was underway:

In March 2022, under the Mumbai Safe City Project, the Mumbai City Police had issued a tender to acquire over 30 cyber forensic tools, including social media investigation tools to analyse financial crimes from customer complaints on social media platforms, and carry out “anti-terror analysis” for identifying “sophisticated weapons and disruptive advances” in technology. Through these tools, the police were looking to profile people through social media platforms and keep a check on political activities on these platforms.

The police also stated that the social media monitoring setup should also include an option for ‘Person Profiling’.

“In social media person profiling with available list tools for monitoring and finding person profiling with following activities (i.e., via image of the person, email addresses of the person, geolocation of the person, by name of person, by files, phone numbers, telephone numbers, URLs, websites using search engine) on the internet.” — Mumbai Safe City Project tender

The Commissioner’s comments indicate that the police department has begun work on the planned labs for monitoring and analysis of social media platforms and activities. Read MediaNama’s detailed coverage about the Mumbai Safe City Project tender here.

Social media monitoring will create a “surveillance state”

In May 2018, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting had published a tender proposing to establish a Social Media Communications Hub (SMCH). The tender was first reported by Scroll.in and sought capabilities to monitor Twitter, Instagram, some blogs, and YouTube, from the bidders. As reported by MediaNama earlier, through the SMCH, the government was also looking to keep track of key influencers, archive and retrieve older conversations, and to create a ‘360-degree’ view of everyone it tracks and create ‘personalized responses’.

“The analytics tool should have the capability to categorize social media conversations and other references on the World Wide Web into positive, negative and neutral as viewed/considered by Ministry of Information and Broadcasting,” the tender stated.

In response to a petition filed by former Member of Parliament Mahua Moitra, the Supreme Court had issued a notice to the Centre denouncing the government’s plans on grounds that it will create a “surveillance state”. Subsequently, the tender was withdrawn by the Centre in August, 2018.

Also Read: 

Supreme Court: Social Media Monitoring Can Turn India Into Surveillance State
Exclusive: Mumbai Police Looks To Tackle Cyber Crimes By Profiling Social Media Users And Keeping Tabs On Their “Thoughts”
How Facial Recognition Surveillance Tactics Led This Hyderabad Resident To Hold Back On His Freedoms
How India’s Police Is Using Metadata

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Written By

Curious about the intersection of technology with education, caste and welfare rights. For story tips, please feel free to reach out at sarasvati@medianama.com

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