Cyber Crime Volunteer Programme: Citizens to ‘spy’ on each other on social media? Beware!

Express News Service
BENGALURU: Next time you post on Facebook or Instagram, or tweet a meme about a government policy, beware! For, even if a couple of your hundreds of contacts have signed up to be a volunteer for the Ministry for Home Affairs ‘Cyber Crime Volunteer Programme’, they can report any post that annoys or worries them.

These ordinary citizens are being asked to judge if a post threatens — anything from sovereignty of our nation and public order, to international relations and child rights — and alert the national-level agency.

The volunteer programme is supposed to act as a facilitative tool between ordinary citizens and the government for the prevention of cybercrime. Any citizen can register himself/herself under one of three categories: ‘Cyber Volunteer Unlawful Content Flagger’, ‘Cyber Awareness Promoter’, and ‘Cyber Expert’. Post-registration, the individual can directly report “unlawful content” being circulated over the Internet, which presumably includes social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, among others.

Maitreyi Krishnan, advocate, said, “This is a violation of the fundamental right to privacy. On what basis is the government asking people to spy on each other? This will lead to all kinds of vigilantism.”Vivek Sood, senior advocate, Supreme Court and Delhi High Court, said it was a violation of the right to privacy of the citizens. 

Withdraw cybercrime volunteer programme, experts urge govt

“These volunteers can be said to be the informers of the Big Brothers (George Orwell’s 1984) alias the law enforcement agencies,” Vivek Sood, senior advocate, Supreme Court and Delhi High Court, said.Meanwhile, the Internet Freedom Foundation has written to the MHA, urging it to withdraw the programme immediately. The Foundation has stated that the offences included in the scope of this programme in the ‘National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal’ are already cognizable and can be reported to the police by any person. Therefore, there is confusion as to the necessity of this programme, it said.

“Under the programme, I4C (The Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre) and the MHA have allowed a person to register as a ‘Cyber Volunteer Unlawful Content Flagger’ without fulfilling the requirement of any prior verification (KYC). Since no verification is required and the nature of the position itself is voluntary, it absolves the I4C and the MHA of any liability or guilt in cases of misuse,” the Foundation said.

Dr A Nagarathna, assistant professor, NLSIU, said,  “The programme has been launched without having any underlying legal framework or Standard Operating Procedure in place which would regulate the functioning of this programme and define its parameters. In the absence of such a framework, the possibility of misuse and arbitrariness increases.”