The ultimate step in state vigilantism, and a clear overreach of power, that cannot be used even in discretionary measures – yet it is being taken in broad daylight, in a time that history might reflect upon as the darkest days of the Indian fabric of democracy.

Uttarakhand police will now scrutinize social media behavior of those putting “anti-national” posts on such sites and may not clear verification for passport or arms license if they are found to doing it habitually, state director general of police Ashok Kumar said on Tuesday, in an attempt to curb misuse of social media platforms.

When asked what would constitute “anti-national” comments, DGP Kumar said, “Whoever is writing against national unity and integrity, that is anti-national. First, an opportunity will be provided to a person when he makes any such posts by way of counseling. But if a person does not mend his ways, a record of his posts will be maintained. No amendment in any law or rule will be required to start mentioning ‘anti-national’ posts in the police verification,” he added as reported by TheWire.

The circular has caused consternation since there is no legal definition of ‘anti-national’. This could allow the police to identify dissenters or those critical of the government as “anti-national”, preventing them from accessing jobs or services.

“Till now, in case a person was putting anti-national posts or fake news on social media, the police used to counsel him and ask him not to repeat it in future. A case was registered only if it was a very serious case,” Kumar said. “From now onwards, the police will scrutinize the accused’s social media behavior to check if he is habitually putting such anti-national posts. If it is found so, then the police would mention it in his/her police verification and may not clear in his application for passport or arms license,” he said on the concluding day of state police officers’ conference held at police headquarters in Dehradun.

However, the DGP denied he had introduced anything “new or drastic” saying he had only spoken in favor of enforcing a clause already there in the passport law. The DGP further added he stands against anything that falls into the category of anti-national activities as defined by the Indian Constitution. Replying to a question, he admitted that the way social media was used to “escalate tension” during the recent tractor parade in Delhi may have acted as a catalyst for taking the decision. “Deterrents like these are necessary to discourage the growing misuse of social media and send a message to users to be more responsible,” he said as reported by Hindustan Times.

The development was among other measures discussed by the police officers during the conference to improve policing in the state. “The decision was taken as there has been an increase in people putting anti-national posts on social media in the state,” said another police officer privy to the development. “The social media monitoring team has been keeping a strict eye to track down such people. It was found that the number of such posts on social media platforms has increased, which is a clear threat to law and order,” the officer said.

However, the legal experts have termed the move as an infringement of an individual’s freedom of expression. A senior lawyer at Uttarakhand High Court, Kartikeya Gupta said, “It is a complete infringement of an individual’s freedom expression. Police have no right to decide whether any post on social media is anti-national or not as it is the job of the courts.” Gupta added, “Police cannot pass such a gag order. If police itself will decide that then what will the courts do?”

This is a very serious issue that raises questions about the implications of this near draconian rule that gives almost absolute power in the hands of the police and the possibility of gross abuse of power. What a citizen post on social media is his personal choice and a fundamental right granted by the Constitution. To infringe it in the name of national security is a regressive step, that poses a peril to the foundations of India.

 

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