From the Viewsroom

Big brother may be watching

Mohini Chandola | Updated on February 09, 2021

Idea of scrutiny of social media posts for passport unjustified

The Director-General of Police of Uttarakhand, Ashok Kumar, recently stated that citizens posting ‘anti-social’ and ‘anti-national’ content on social media will not clear police verification to receive a passport. In a discussion to improve policing in the State, Kumar said that the police will scrutinise social media posts of every applicant and an FIR will be filed in ‘very serious cases’.

Apart from government documents for identification, the Passports Act does not state the requirement of social media tracking as basis for police verification for new passport holders. The External Affairs Ministry, in 2018, had clarified that police verification is not mandatory to renew a passport within three years of issuance.

Kumar also said that a ‘social media tracking team’ will be deployed to track those who are a ‘clear threat to law and order’, but the State would need the Home Ministry’s approval to track online activity of a suspect. Surveillance without awareness or consent is a gross violation of an individual’s privacy. If the police impedes the process by withholding clearance without substantial proof, the applicant can send the documents for re-verification or challenge it in High Court on the grounds of violation of fundamental right of expression.

While the DGP’s orders have no teeth without legal backing, they seem to be focussed on suppressing dissent. If enforced, the move would put lawyers, journalists and activists under police lens. But with the Constitution backing fundamental rights, Uttarakhand Police is unlikely to be granted the green signal by the Ministry to conduct a mass surveillance programme.

In the unlikely event of Ministry approval, the DGP must clearly define ‘anti-social’ elements and who is authorised to deem a citizen ‘anti-national’. The police must also state the process of authentication if a person owns private accounts and for those with no social media accounts. With no follow up on the horizon regarding the regulation of online activity, the DGP’s statements will hopefully remain merely a warning.

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Published on February 09, 2021
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