BAN ON SOCIAL MEDIA BY THE INDIAN MILITARY

    In the age of technology, every single one amongst us realizes the impact that social media has on each sphere of our life. There are sites to serve each and every purpose of an individual ranging from LinkedIn for professional uses to Facebook and Twitter, mainly for connecting to people around the globe. 

    IMPORTANCE OF SOCIAL MEDIA BAN

    All these sites give users an open platform to voice their opinions, promote their businesses and showcase their talents. It is during this time of the pandemic that people have realized and appreciated social media even more. It has played a significant role by passing on crucial information by  medical examiners as well as the government. People who were highly affected financially sought out these sites to promote their businesses. It is however, most useful to people that live away from their friends and family. The pleasures of a simple video call to stay connected to your loved ones can only be enjoyed and appreciated by those who are not fortunate enough to see them in person. 

    ROLE OF MILITARY IN INDIA

    Amongst the numerous those who don’t have the privilege are the brave hearts who are ready to sacrifice everything for their country. They stay away from their families for months at an end, some miss milestones just like the birth of their child because they put the country first and foremost. They endure extreme climatic conditions and put everything at risk. It is very evident that life within the Indian military can be tough, so they rely a great deal on social media to compensate for the physical distance.

    THE RECENT BAN

    Following the ban of the Chinese apps by the Indian Government, the Indian Army on 8th July 2020 further expanded the list of the banned apps, banning 89 apps in total.[1] They included eminent social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram together with some news and e-commerce sites. All army personnels were directed to delete their accounts on all the listed apps by 15th July, giving them an entire week to do so. Even before such a ban, Indian Army officials had been advised to stay away from the utilization of Whatsapp for authentic correspondence back in July a year ago. It involved spot-checks of telephones to confirm that no confidential data was being spilled, and [2] in 2015, the then defense minister Manohar Parrikar accepted a critical report which had advised against such a ban on social media. But the circumstances and the state of affairs then were very unlike those we are under now. The threat to our national security from enemy nations is significantly higher. 

    STANCE ON SOCIAL MEDIA BY OTHER BRANCHES OF THE MILITARY

    The Indian Army, however, is not the first branch of the Indian Military to enact such a ban. The Indian Navy in 2019 December, issued an order completely banning major messaging apps along with prominent dating apps. Moreover, they put a complete stop on the usage of smartphones on all the naval premises and facilities and warships. This order was sent out with immediate effect.[3]
    This crucial step was undertaken by the Navy after they introduced Operation Dolphin Nose which helped tracking personnel leaking classified information.[4]
    Due to this operation, a number of cases came to light of naval personnels handing out sensitive information to Pakistan Intelligence Operative (PIOs) for a few thousand rupees. [5]

    While the Indian Air Force is yet to promulgate such a ban, several former Air Chiefs openly spoke about social media being a cause of concern for the health of pilots and crew mates as they are deprived of sleep and not well rested for their duties. [6]

    BASIC RIGHTS OF MILITARY PERSONNELS

    While the Indian Constitution offers fundamental rights to each and every citizen without any discrimination, there’s an exemption in the Constitution[7]. It empowers the Parliament to enact laws in order to restrict certain Fundamental Rights for the individuals in the Armed Forces. It authorises the Central Government to do so to ensure that such forces that are charged to maintain public order discharge their duties appropriately and stay disciplined.
    Critics have said that it is against the basic structure of the Constitution and  violates the entire spirit of the Preamble of the Constitution. However, the Honorable Supreme Court in various instances has upheld the validity of Article 33.
    In one such case, Suk Das & Anr v. Union Territory of Arunachal Pradesh [8] the Court stated that not providing counsel of one’s own choice violated Article 22(1) of the Indian Constitution [9]. However, when the petitioner of the case, Ram Swarup v. Union of India,[10] cited this case; it was dismissed on the grounds that since this case involved army personnels and hence, Article 33 came into play. 

    Using these powers bestowed upon them by the article, the government enacted the Army Act to limit rights pertaining to freedom of speech and expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom to form associations and unions contained in Article 19 of the Constitution. Section 21 of the Army Act allows restrictions on three rights, among those one of which is that individuals in the forces cannot communicate with the press or to publish or cause to be published any book, letter or other document.[11]

    EFFECTS OF THE BAN

    While most compiled, an officer of the Indian Army, Lt Col. PK Choudhary, posted in Jammu & Kashmir, filed a PIL at the Delhi High Court which was heard by a Bench of Justice Ravi Sahai Endlaw and Justice Asha Menon seeking interim relief on deleting his Facebook account. [12] He argued that social media is requisite for him to keep in touch with his family as they live abroad. This however didn’t have strong reasoning as much safer platforms exist like Google Duo or Google Meet to name a few. He also claimed that this particular rule violates his fundamental rights of freedom of speech and expression, and right to equality, therefore is unconstitutional.
    In a judgement given by the Tripura High Court, it was acknowledged that posting your opinions and point of views on Facebook is part of the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression and that right is being denied to Indian citizens only on the basis of their profession.
    It was argued that while Article 33 [13], authorises the Indian Parliament to make laws, this newly formed policy was issued by the Ministry of Defense. It further interpreted that any comment or opinion of an army personnel on any social media site can be constituted as publishing the document and it can also be used by the press. Considering all of this and more, the Court dismissed the plea and concluded that allowing use of social media might give an edge to our enemy nations. The Bench also stated that the novel policy was a result of continually advancing intelligence of security dangers. They further added that this change in policy is a consequence of the paradigm shift in the intelligence activities of hostile countries, expanded prominence of social media and the vulnerability of unsuspecting military personnel.

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    REASON FOR THE BAN

    The main reason for imposing such a ban was to restrict leaking of sensitive information through ‘honey traps’. Honey traps regularly begin with a ‘pretty, young lady’ liking a soldier’s post via social media, as indicated by the Indian Army. After some light discussion, the lady ordinarily requests more photographs of weapons, tanks, ammunitions and other facilities. Then the agents of Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency ISI blackmail them to derive more secrets. Even though the Indian defense personnel undergo rigorous selection processes and training to become a part of the prestigious organization, they are vulnerable to honey straps as they don’t expect any threats from that sphere. It is also not viable and virtually possible to keep track of such a huge number of profiles. [14]
    In 2019, the Indian Army discovered around 150 fake profiles trying to persuade Army officers. There has also been an instance where a lady pretended to be an Army officer and ended up honey trapping 50 jawans of the organization. [15]

    According to a senior officer, there has also been an exponential increase in the number of military officials being targeted online by intelligence offices of Pakistan and China. [16]
    On October 8, 2020 the anti-terrorist squad (ATS) of Maharashtra arrested an employee of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL)’s facility near Nashik -which is responsible for making SU-30 MKI aircraft and servicing MiG 21 and SU-30- for spying. He was caught leaking information about Indian fighter aircrafts being made at the location, along with information related to HAL, the aircraft manufacturing unit at Ozar, and the prohibited areas inside the manufacturing unit to Pakistan’s Inter Service Intelligence (ISI). [17]

    Mark Zukerberg, who owns major social media sites, Facebook, Instagram and WhatApp admitted in 2018 that a firm called Cambridge Analytica stole data of over 50 million users. [18] Facebook, if perceived from a privacy and security point of view raises a number of red flags. There are no security checks or solid verification when a person signs up. There is no action taken to prevent or even curb hate speech. But most importantly, data mining poses a great threat. 

    CURRENT SITUATION

    War today doesn’t go by the traditional definition, it has now evolved to extend to influencing and affecting economies and creating political unrest. Ever since the LAC standoff at the Galwan Valley and India being on the brink of a war with China, attacks have not just been restricted to the border. Modern warfare with heavy emphasis on technology and artificial intelligence.
    A Chinese technology company closely associated with the Chinese government and the ruling party is said to be snooping on over 10,000 Indian VIP citizens. [19] It is to prevent instances like these and to safeguard our national security that the government decided to ban Chinese apps that made personal data highly accessible to China. 

    China has been exceptionally focused on exporting their home grown AI technology, placing them and possibly gaining access to the devices. It gives them a strong hold in overseas security systems which in turn gives them an edge to influence other countries for their benefit. Since India is a leading importer of Chinese goods, AI experts have regularly stressed about India keeping a watch on the supply chain attacks. Chinese goods are therefore refrained from being used in military equipment. 

    CONCLUSION

    From the above arguments, we can easily conclude that this decision to ban social media platforms for individuals in the armed forces seems coherent as we consider the changing times and dynamics. The integrity and safety of the soldiers of the armed forces is the government’s utmost priority because they are the ones who keep our nation’s sovereignty intact and the decision made was vital for the protection of the soldiers itself. 

    REFERENCES

    1. Elizabeth Roche, “Army expands list of social media apps banned for use among personnel”, Mint, Jul 9, 2020, https://www.livemint.com/news/india/army-expands-list-of-social-media-apps-banned-for-use-among-personnel-11594282784208.html, (Last visited on November 23, 2020).
    2. Prabhjothe Gill, “What is a honey trap ⁠— the reason why the Indian Army banned Tinder, Bumble, and OK Cupid”, Business Insider, Jul 9, 2020 https://www.businessinsider.in/tech/apps/news/tinder-bumble-and-ok-cupid-banned-by-indian-army-to-keep-soldiers-from-being-honey-trapped/articleshow/76866610.cms, (Last visited on November 23, 2020).
    3. Saurabh Joshi, “Indian Navy Bans Facebook For All Personnel”, StratPost, December 29, 2019, https://stratpost.com/scoop-indian-navy-bans-facebook-for-all-personnel/, (Last visited on November 23, 2020).
    4. Supra note 2.
    5. Correspondent, “Indian Navy Personnel Found Leaking Information To Pakistani Intelligence”, HWPost, February 20, 2020 https://hwnews.in/news/national-news/indian-navy-personnel-found-leaking-information-to-pakistani-intelligence/125985,(Last visited on November 23, 2020).
    6. Akhil Kadidal, “IAF pilots losing sleep by too much social media use”, Deccan Herald, November 15, 2019
      https://www.deccanherald.com/city/top-bengaluru-stories/iaf-pilots-losing-sleep-by-too-much-social-media-use-776370.html, (Last visited on November 23, 2020).
    7. The Constitution of India, 1949, art. 33.
    8. 1986 AIR 991.
    9. The Constitution of India, 1949, art. 22(1).
    10. AIR 1965 SC 247.
    11. The Army Act, 1950, s. 21.
    12. HT Correspondent, “Lt Col moves Delhi High Court against app ban”, Hindustan Times, Jul 14, 2020 https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/lt-col-moves-hc-against-apps-ban/story-oHxx1fO9sc9fVvko0HKRrL.html, (Last visited on November 23, 2020).
    13. Supra 6.
    14.  Supra 2.
    15.  PTI, “Army warns officials against 150 fake social media profiles”, Times of India, Nov 7, 2019 https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/army-warns-officials-against-150-fake-social-media-profiles-who-target-personnel-for-sensitive-info/articleshow/71957335.cms, (Last visited on November 23, 2020).
    16. Supra 2 .
    17. Mateen Hafeez & Santosh Sonawane, “Staffer at HAL’s Nashik unit held for spying for ISI”, Times of India, Oct 10, 2020. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nashik/staffer-at-hals-nashik-unit-held-for-spying-for-isi/articleshow/78583494.cms, (Last visited on November 23, 2020).
    18.  India.com NewsDesk, “Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Admits ‘Mistake’ in Data-mining Scandal Involving Cambridge Analytica, Says We Don’t Deserve to Serve You”, India.com, March 22, 2018. https://www.india.com/news/world/facebook-ceo-mark-zuckerberg-admits-mistake-in-data-mining-scandal-involving-cambridge-analytica-says-we-dont-deserve-to-serve-you-2956984/, (Last visited on November 23, 2020).
    19. Correspondent, “China-based Firm Snooping on Indian VIPs Says Its Data Public, Acquired Online: Sources”, News18, Sept 15, 2020, https://www.news18.com/news/india/china-based-firm-snooping-on-indian-vips-says-its-data-public-acquired-online-source-2879737.html, (Last visited on November 23, 2020).

    BY MEHER THAPAR| GOVERNMENT LAW COLLEGE, MUMBAI

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