Police looking for online volunteers to report ‘anti-national’ posts?

The Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C) has been established under Ministry of Home affairs (MHA) 

Social media

Keeping an eye on posts on social media, a vast digital sea that changes tides each minute, is a daunting task, and a full time job to say the least. And according to news reports, the police departments of Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir are now looking for volunteers to keep an eye out for ‘anti national’ posts and report them to the authorities. 

According to the Union Home Ministry’s National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal: https://www.cybercrime.gov.in, the “Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C) has been established under Ministry of Home affairs (MHA) to act as a nodal point at National level in the fight against cybercrime. It aims to provide a platform to deal with cybercrimes in a coordinated and comprehensive manner. One of the important objectives of I4C is to create an ecosystem that brings together academia, industry, public and government in prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of cyber crimes.”

It invites “Good Samaritans” to register as “Cyber Crime Volunteers in the role of Unlawful Content Flaggers for facilitating law enforcement agencies in identifying, reporting and removal of illegal / unlawful online content” as well as “individuals who are willing to volunteer in any other area that can help in fighting cybercrime.” This is purely volunteer based and volunteers will not be “entitled for any monetary benefits or Identity Cards/Designation etc., at present or in future” and are “prohibited from using the name of Ministry of Home Affairs or claim to have an association with Ministry of Home Affairs on any social media or public platform” they are also barred from creating social media accounts in the name of this program.

The portal broadly describes “unlawful content” as anything that is:

  • Against sovereignty and integrity of India

  • Against defence of India

  • Against Security of the State

  • Against friendly relations with foreign States

  • Content aimed at disturbing Public Order

  • Disturbing communal harmony

  • Child Sex Abuse material

The process of registration is simple and open to any citizen of India. All the potential “Cyber Volunteer” has to do isegister on the National Cybercrime Reporting Portal following the specific directions and upload their “ resume, ID Proof, Address Proof and Passport size photograph” as required. The scheme is being implemented across India but Jammu and Kashmir police seemed to have taken the lead here, reported the Telegraph. According to  the news report, Jammu and Kashmir police’s search for “cyber volunteers who will identify and report ‘anti-national’ posts”, has already raised fears of online vigilantes targeting people. The report states that this is being described “as the rise of a new “Ikhwan” — a dreaded, pro-government counter-insurgency militia that existed in the early years of the militancy and was accused of massive crimes in the Valley.” The Union Territory’s  police is reported to have issued a statement on Wednesday asked people to register as “cyber crime volunteers” under the “framework of ministry of home affairs programme — Cyber Crime Volunteer Framework”.

There are three categories of cyber volunteers

Volunteers can register themselves under: unlawful content flagger, awareness promoter, or cyber expert. Those interested are “required to register as a volunteer through a dedicated section, ‘Cyber Volunteers’, on (the) National Cybercrime Reporting Portal”, the news report quotes police’s statement. Under this scheme, anybody can volunteer to be a content flagger and “no prior verification (KYC) is required”. However, for the two other categories, the state or Union Territory concerned will carry out verification, stated the news reports adding that cyber experts will deal with specific domains of cyber crime such as forensics, network forensics, malware analysis, memory analysis and cryptography.

However, even as the news has been locally reported days ago, Kashmir’s cyber police chief, Tahir Ashraf, reportedly texted The Telegraph stating, he had “not started any such recruitment.” It is still not clear if the statement was issued by his office.The applications will be received by the regional nodal offices in the states, and in Jammu and Kashmir by the crime branch inspector-general of police who will “contact the applicants on an as-needed basis” stated the news report.

Meanwhile, the Indian Express reported that Delhi Police has also invited in ‘digital volunteers’ to “amplify tweets”. According to the IE, after a meeting three months ago, the DP has started looking for digital volunteers, with a focus on resident and market welfare groups, and those who have verified Twitter handles.

According to IE, so far, 2,132 such digital volunteers have been found by the DP, however, 578 accounts were said to be non-functional. According to the news report, the concept was introduced to district DCPs around three months ago during a crime review meeting with Delhi Police Commissioner S N Shrivastava, “to spread their messages and achievements on social media. The digital volunteers are asked to like and retweet messages posted by the Delhi Police as well as various DCPs. It is also recommended that they share messages in support of the police’s work.” Soon the DCPs asked SHOs to start looking for digital volunteers and Cyber teams were also asked to tap resident and market welfare groups, stated the news report. “The Southeast district has 979 digital volunteers — the highest — but an assessment indicated 312 accounts were inactive while 690 were not following the DCP concerned. Central district came in second with 186 digital volunteers, but 68 non-existent accounts and 43 not following the DCP. With 179 digital volunteers, North district was third, but a verification by the supervisory officer revealed 48 accounts were non-functional and 93 were not following the DCP,” the IE quoted a source, adding “The districts where the problem of non-functional accounts was relatively less are New Delhi, Southwest and Shahdara.”

Last year, according to the IE report, the Delhi Police started an “IT cell” to keep tabs on unlawful content and to revamp its image online. This cell was manned by “young graduates with a background in information technology and experience in handling social media” who worked on a contract.



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