Government plans cyber surveillance agency to monitor the web

Idea is to keep a watch on web content in ‘public’ domain & has potential to create law & order problems like what India witnessed in recent Assam violence

Faced with recent episodes of misuse of internet in creating unrest, the Centre is planning to set up a dedicated ‘cyber surveillance agency’ to monitor the web and social media networks for malicious content, having implications on law and order, and forewarn security agencies and state police for taking preventive steps.

The idea is to keep a watch on web content which are in the ‘public’ domain and which may have potential to create law and order problems like what the country witnessed in the wake of the recent Assam violence.

“The agency will have an effective monitoring system, comprising duly tasked and technologically empowered cyber monitoring and surveillance agencies, which can report build-up in time and forewarn government of any malicious use of the internet and social media,” said an official. Such a central agency will, however, be set up only after putting in place a legal regime to take care of the issue of individuals’ privacy and citizens’ freedom of speech/expression.

The matter was discussed at a recent meeting chaired by national security advisor Shivshankar Menon in the backdrop of misuse of various websites including social media networks in spreading rumours by uploading inflammatory messages and doctored videos of Assam violence to create panic among people of the northeast.

The meeting also took stock of the impact and effectiveness of the government action to block certain content on the internet and social media. The official said it was decided to prepare a legal regime to fill the gaps in the Information Technology (IT) Act for dealing with such situations, including deterring malicious use of the internet and social media. It was felt that public guidelines and standard operating procedures needed to be set in motion by the government and service providers in such crises, he added.

“This will introduce predictability with regard to what kind of content is liable to be regulated and for how long, the structure and process for such regulation, proactive dissemination of information to counter false propaganda as well as a system of graded response and graded penalty to perpetrators ,” the minutes of the meeting said.