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This article was published on February 9, 2021

India is recruiting cyber snitches to report ‘anti-national’ content

India is recruiting cyber snitches to report ‘anti-national’ content
Ivan Mehta
Story by

Ivan Mehta

Ivan covers Big Tech, India, policy, AI, security, platforms, and apps for TNW. That's one heck of a mixed bag. He likes to say "Bleh." Ivan covers Big Tech, India, policy, AI, security, platforms, and apps for TNW. That's one heck of a mixed bag. He likes to say "Bleh."

China is notoriously famous for its censorship and oppression on the internet by monitoring social media posts. Now, India wants to do something similar as the government is looking for volunteers to report ‘anti-national’ social media posts.

According to a report by The Indian Express, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has already started the program on a trial basis, asking citizens to report illegal content on the internet. MHA wants these volunteers to identify posts that include child pornography, rape, terrorism, radicalization, and anti-national activities. 

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As reported by the Wire, Jammu & Kashmir police already released a statement asking people to register as volunteers on the National Cybercrime Reporting Portal:

Under this initiative, any Indian citizen can get himself/herself associated by registering in any of three categories of Cyber Volunteer. Cyber Volunteer Unlawful Content Flagger- for identifying online illegal/unlawful content like child pornography, rape/gang rape, terrorism, radicalization, anti national activities etc. and reporting to government.

The publication noted that while people signing up might have to upload a valid government ID, there won’t be any verification process to vet them.  

Unlawful content defined by the MHA website

While reporting rape threats, terrorist and child exploitative content will make the internet a safer place, anti-national activities can be often subjective if not defined clearly. This could end up giving the power to restrict free speech to these volunteers. 

Recently, based on the government’s order Twitter blocked several accounts and tweets posting about farmer’s protests in India. Earlier this month, the police force of the northern state of Uttarakhand said that it will scan social media posts for anti-national content before approving applications for a passport. 

If there’s no defined process to hire these volunteers, the program could promote censorship and snooping. The last thing India needs right now is to adopt practices from China’s internet restrictions.

A paper published by the Centre for Internet and Society, a nonprofit researching on internet policies, noted that such initiatives could lead to intrusion and threaten the safety of people who are expressing dissent against the authorities. 

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