Chennai, like most places in the world, has a crime problem.
What it also has, that most places do NOT (though it’s only a matter of time) is a police force tasked with monitoring social media sites, like Twitter, to help fight back.
But are they planning to use it purely to fight crime – or will they use it to crush political dissidents and other naysayers as well?
TheHindu.com reports the Chennai police “have formed a core team to exclusively monitor activity in the social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter.”
The team headed by a Joint Commissioner of Police will work in coordination with Central/State intelligence agencies, police sources said on Wednesday.
In a week, police will have a Facebook account to interact with users on various issues. Besides monitoring openly available content, it would use the medium to disseminate information relevant to the public, including tips on crime-prevention and traffic conditions.
This happens in the United States as well, with local police offices sharing scanner-type updates via tweets. Heck, there was even a (short-lived) controversial Twitter stream from the NYPD that was tweeting photos of high risk, recently released convicts. Helpful stuff, really.
“The idea is to have a feel of public perception on Chennai police. The dedicated team will monitor the social media and intervene whenever any suspicious activity comes to notice,” a senior police official said.
That sounds reasonable, right?
And then it seems to go a BIT beyond monitoring and sharing safety information, as this same official shares the objective of this work. “The objective is mainly to keep tabs on anti-social elements and prevent the spread of hate campaign or messages that can hurt the sentiments of people. There should be no room in the public domain for any objectionable material that can disrupt peace or trigger tension in society.” Uhm . . . what?
And then there’s this:
Inspector-General of Police (Internal Security) Abash Kumar said the social media could be a potential source of information which intelligence agencies were closely monitoring. There were instances when police warned users to delete offensive contents. “Under the provisions of the Information Technology Act, we can even ask the service provider to remove the content or even the account of the person concerned. Even if a fake account is activated, it would be possible to locate the user,” he said, adding that the police would not encroach upon the privacy of Net users.
So they’re SAYING they won’t encroach upon the privacy of Net users, but it kinda sounds the opposite of that, doesn’t it? And with a dash of censorship splashed on for good measure.
This would be where Twitter’s censorship policy will be put to the test. For although Twitter gets top marks for protecting user privacy from governments, protecting users against government censorship is an entirely different story.
(Image from Shutterstock)