Govt invites volunteers to identify, report ‘anti-national’ web content

Activists and legal experts say the programme, which doesn’t come under the purview of a legal framework, may be misused by individuals to settle personal scores

Representative photo: iStock

In a step that could end up encouraging vigilantism, a new programme launched by the cybercrime cell of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is enrolling volunteers who would identify, flag and report illegal and unlawful content like child pornography, rape, terrorism, radicalization and ‘anti-national’ activities, to the government, reported Indian Express.

Sources who spoke to IE said that the programme would be launched on a trial basis in Jammu and Kashmir and Tripura.

The government, however, hasn’t created a legal framework defining anti-national content or activity that would guide the volunteers. This would end up empowering the said volunteers in flagging any content or person.

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While the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (14C) will be the nodal body, those wanting to be cyber volunteers can register themselves with their respective state governments. An aspirant is required to fill in his/her personal details to register on the MHA’s website. The portal says those who register as volunteers cannot use the programme for any commercial purposes and are “prohibited from using the name or claiming association” with the ministry on any public platform.

The ministry directive mandates a volunteer to “maintain strict confidentiality of task assigned/carried out by him/her.”

“The State Nodal Officer of States/UTs also reserves the right to take legal action…against the Volunteer, in case of violation of terms and conditions of Cyber Volunteer Program,” the notice says.

Cyber security lawyers and activists that IE spoke to say the lack of legal framework for the programme and giving powers to common citizens over their peers may encourage people to use it to settle personal scores.

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“There are multiple aspects to this notification. Firstly, there are no legal definitions of anti-national content or activity, either by the government or the judiciary. That is one big grey area. Secondly, 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 told IE.

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