Udayavni Special

MHA’s new programme allows citizens to ‘report’ anti-national content


Shivani Kava, Feb 26, 2021, 1:11 PM IST

Home Affairs Ministry of India has flagged off a ‘Cyber Crime Volunteers Concept,’ an initiative inviting ordinary citizens to sign up as volunteers, to help identify the circulation of digital “unlawful content.”

As stated by the official website of the National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal under the specific section for this program,  ” Cyber Crime Volunteers Program to bring together citizens with a passion to serve the nation on a single platform and contribute in the fight against cybercrime in the country.”

According to the website, the program will help law enforcement agencies in identifying, reporting, and removal of illegal/ unlawful online content.

This program will be launched all over the country. However, it is going to have test runs in Jammu & Kashmir, and Tripura.

The volunteer program is supposed to act as the nodal point between the citizens and the government to prevent cybercrime.

Citizens can register themselves under – Cyber Volunteer Unlawful Content Flagger, Cyber Awareness Promoter, and Cyber Expert, categories.

Once the registration is done, the individual can directly report “unlawful content” circulated over the Internet, especially social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and, Twitter.

The website doesn’t mention any prior verification for the volunteers who want to sign up under the first category, whereas there is some form of authentication for citizens wishing to be cyber promoters and cyber experts.

This program will help in dealing with specific domains of cybercrime, forensics, network forensics, malware analysis, memory analysis, and cryptography.

The website makes it clear that the program is purely volunteer, with no monetary benefits, and that the volunteers shouldn’t use it for commercial use.

The volunteers are exempted from issuing any public statement about their association with the program and are strictly prohibited from using the name of MHA or claim any association with the ministry on any social media platforms.

What according to the website is termed as ‘unlawful content’?

In general, content violates any law in force in India. Such content may fall under the following broad categories:

i. Against sovereignty and integrity of India

ii. Against defence of India

iii. Against Security of the State

iv. Against friendly relations with foreign States

v. Content aimed at disturbing Public Order

vi. Disturbing communal harmony

vii. Child Sex Abuse material

The last category of unlawful content, a separate section “Report Child/Women related crime” has been provided on the portal where one can report such content. For all other categories of unlawful content, we welcome you to register as a volunteer and contribute your best to support law enforcement agencies in dealing with such content.

Volunteers are advised to study Article 19 of the Indian Constitution.

Underlying Concerns 

The terms of the program are imprecise and the chances of them being interpreted against the citizens who are nothing but critics of the ruling party is high.  The judicial interpretation of the program lies in the grey area, as it leaves too much discretion in the hands of volunteers.

The website doesn’t mention anything about the ones falsely flagged by an MHA volunteer. The program had been launched without having any underlying legal framework or Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), to regulate the functioning of this program and define the parameters.

The absence of the framework leads to a possibility of misuse as the website doesn’t mention any clear guidelines to be followed in its implementation.

As per available data, only 2.5% of total complaints registered on the portal are converted into First Information Reports (FIRs). The portal has received about 2 lakh complaints, but only 5000 cases have been registered as FIRs.

Reports revealed that the rate of conversion of complaints to FIRs is very low as compared to the number of cybercrime complaints received.

This program comes at the time when PM Narendra Modi recently condemned the rising of civil agitations across the country and termed the protestors as ‘andolanjeevi,’ further adding that there is a need to identify ‘andolanjeevis’ and protect the nation from ‘parijeevi.’

Social Media and other digital media platforms have become an important approach to exercise the freedom of speech and expression. While the internet does pose a threat to individuals and groups, they have to be dealt with cautiously and in terms of the law.

The cyber volunteer program may result in polarisation and disorder in the nation. This citizen vs citizen approach may pave the way to grave situations.

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