The news of the introduction of a specialised police unit, complete with software that can detect remarks and postings on social media that may be considered cybercrime, brings about mixed feelings. While we would welcome greater efficiency in solving crimes such as account hacking and sexual harassment through uploading nude pictures and videos we cannot help but have misgivings about this unit being misused to curb people's freedom of expression even further.
And we have reasons to feel this unease. We have seen how section 57 of the ICT law has been used to intimidate and suppress dissenting voices. The new specialised unit will have a formidable strength of 505 members and the software OSINT (open source intelligence unit) will make it easier for law enforcement agents to study all social media posts just by typing a single word or a few key words. Rights activists have expressed their concern that this technology, if misused, could be used to control social media users in the name of monitoring, ahead of the elections. That would be a total infringement on people's privacy and in total contradiction to our democratic ideals.
According to high-ups in the police force, there is a dearth of adequately skilled officials and logistical software to investigate cases under the ICT Act. The rate of case disposal is also quite low. Thus a better equipped unit should be a positive move. That sounds logical enough. But given the risks of misuse of the ICT Act — a subject that continues to be of great concern to the public—such specialised units must exercise caution. The government, particularly, must make sure that this technological upgrade is not used to harass people or curb dissenting voices, in the name of fighting cyber-crime.