Indian police set up lab to monitor social media

18 March 2013 2114 hrs ZDNet

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MUMBAI: Mumbai police have set up India’s first “social media lab” to monitor Facebook, Twitter and other networking sites, sparking concerns about freedom of speech online.

A specially-trained team of 20 police officers will staff the lab, which was launched over the weekend and will work around the clock to keep an eye on issues being publicly discussed and track matters relating to public order.
“They will work under Special Branch. They will monitor and find out which topics are trending among the youth so we can plan law and order in a good way,” police spokesman Satyanarayan Choudhary told AFP on Monday.
In November police sparked outrage and fierce debate about India’s Internet laws by arresting two young women over a Facebook post criticising the shutdown of Mumbai after the death of a local hardline politician.
The pair was arrested under laws including section 66a of the Information Technology Act, which forbids “sending false and offensive messages through communication services” and can lead to three years in jail.
The case followed several arrests across the country for political cartoons or comments made online.
Sunil Abraham, executive director of the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society research group, said the “natural reaction” was to worry about the new police lab given the way the law has been used.
“Police in the last four years have acted in an arbitrary and random fashion, often using the IT Act to settle political scores,” he told AFP.
“When there’s no crisis for the police, proactively keeping an eye on what people are saying or doing is overkill,” he said.
Choudhary said the lab was not set to censor comments, echoing a statement made by police commissioner Satyapal Singh at the launch.
“By reading the mindset of what people are writing on various modes of communication, we will try to provide better and improved safety and security to the Mumbai citizens,” Singh said.
-AFP/fl

Author: Shahidul Alam

Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018. A photographer, writer, curator and activist, Shahidul Alam obtained a PhD in chemistry before switching to photography. His seminal work “The Struggle for Democracy” contributed to the removal of General Ershad. Former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam set up the Drik agency, Chobi Mela festival and Pathshala, South Asian Media Institute, considered one of the finest schools of photography in the world. Shown in MOMA New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Royal Albert Hall and Tate Modern, Alam has been guest curator of Whitechapel Gallery, Winterthur Gallery and Musee de Quai Branly. His awards include Mother Jones, Shilpakala Award and Lifetime Achievement Award at the Dali International Festival of Photography. Speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, TEDx, POPTech and National Geographic, Alam chaired the international jury of the prestigious World Press Photo contest. Honorary Fellow of Royal Photographic Society, Alam is visiting professor of Sunderland University in UK and advisory board member of National Geographic Society. John Morris, the former picture editor of Life Magazine describes his book “My journey as a witness”, (listed in “Best Photo Books of 2011” by American Photo), as “The most important book ever written by a photographer.” His recent book “The Tide Will Turn” published by Steidl in 2020, is listed in New York Time’s ‘Best Art Books of 2020’. Alam received the “International Press Freedom Award” for 2020 from ‘The Committee to Protect Journalists’.

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