Won’t interfere in government’s ban on social media use by soldiers: Delhi High Court

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The court said that if the government had assessed that social media enables espionage by enemy countries, it would not overturn the ban.

Evidence produced in court showed how unsuspecting officers had been giving out information on their postings and the whereabouts of other colleagues on social media, putting national security at risk, despite earlier advisories on conduct of military personnel on social media. (Photo | Pixabay - PixelKult)

New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Wednesday said it would not interfere in the government’s decision to bar defence personnel from using social networking websites, including Facebook and Instagram, citing national security concerns.

The high court gave the order while dismissing a senior army officer’s plea. Lieutenant Colonel P K Choudhary had sought a direction to the Director General of Military Intelligence to withdraw its June 6 policy by which all Indian Army personnel were ordered to delete their accounts from Facebook, Instagram and 87 other applications.

Pronouncing the order, a bench of justices Rajiv Sahai Endlaw and Asha Menon said warfare in today’s world was not confined to “accession of territory” but extended to affecting the economy and “inciting civil unrest” by enemy nations.

“In such a scenario, if the government, after complete assessment, has concluded that permitting use of certain social networking websites by personnel of its defence forces is enabling the enemy countries to gain an edge, the courts would be loath to interfere. In the circumstances, no case for interference is made out. Dismissed,” the bench said.

The court said it was evident from records produced that some defence personnel had not been adhering to earlier advisories and directives on conduct and behaviour of army personnel on social networking sites.

“The material produced shows certain army personnel to be unsuspectingly answering all kinds of questions relating to their postings and whereabouts and postings and whereabouts of others merely on being told by a person befriended on social networking sites of a defence background. The information when collated from a number of sources can easily convey a full picture to an expert espionage eye,” the bench noted.

The court also pointed out that besides stating that Facebook and Twitter are more convenient, no answer was forthcoming as to why the filial and other social needs of petitioner Choudhary cannot be fulfilled by other means of communication cited by Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma, which are still available.

The Centre, represented by standing counsel Ajay Digpaul, had earlier told the court that the policy decision was taken as it was found that there had been several instances of defence personnel being targeted on Facebook.

Choudhary, who is currently posted in Jammu and Kashmir, said that he is an active user of Facebook and uses the platform to connect with his friends and family as most of them are settled abroad, including his elder daughter. His petition had alleged that the policy which bans social media platforms is illegal, arbitrary, disproportionate and violates the fundamental rights of soldiers.