New Delhi: The Army’s updated list of banned social media applications, 89 of them, including TikTok, WeChat, Facebook and Instagram, has been challenged by a serving Army officer on the grounds that it is “unconstitutional” and has come by way of an executive order.
ThePrint was the first to report that the Army last month came up with the updated list of 89 apps, many of which were developed in China, to be banned for use by service personnel.
The Army also directed all personnel to delete their Facebook accounts by 1 June this year. Those still using Facebook or any of the other banned sites after 15 July will be reported, the communication stated.
In a petition filed in the Delhi High Court, Lieutenant Colonel P.K. Choudhary had sought withdrawal of the new policy on the grounds that it was “arbitrary executive action”.
The matter is likely to come up for hearing Tuesday.
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What the petition argues
The petition stated the withdrawal would ensure that the fundamental rights of the armed forces are not amended, abrogated or modified by such an arbitrary action, which “offends provisions of Army Act and Rules” and is “unconstitutional”.
The plea said the ban is a violation of Article 33 of the Constitution and also Section 21 of the Army Act, 1950, provisions of which cannot be nullified by an executive order.
The petitioner further stated that he believed that such a ban violated fundamental rights, including the right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to privacy.
The petition mentioned that soldiers of the Indian Army serve in remote areas and extreme weather conditions which adversely affects their physical and mental health. Thus they rely on social media and networking sites to stay connected with family and loved ones.
It further said that the move to ban these sites for soldiers serving in various far flung areas of the country and asking them to delete their accounts on Facebook is “illegal, arbitrary, disproportionate, violates the fundamental rights of Soldiers, including but not limited to the freedom of speech and expression, the right to life and the right to privacy.”
“Therefore, the act of banning usage and directing deletion of accounts of soldiers from social networking platforms that the policy intends to enforce is a clear violation of Article 14 of the Constitution of India,” the petition said.
It further states that there is an attempt to abrogate fundamental rights of the soldiers vide an executive order, and called it an attack on the dignity of serving and retired soldiers.
‘Ban for Army personnel a selective application’
Advocate Shivank Pratap Singh, who is leading the case, told ThePrint that the Army’s directive was in violation of the right to equality because sensitive information not just lies with Army jawans and officers but also with members of civil society, politicians and civil servants.
“So why is it being selectively applied to Indian Armed Forces personnel? Moreover, the way in which the policy has been formulated is wrong. Also, it denies the civil liberties to soldiers who are willing to fight and die for their country,” Singh said.
An Army officer had earlier told ThePrint that the threat perception is regularly reassessed and new vulnerabilities are highlighted and updated lists are sent across all commands and units based on cyber security assessments carried out at various levels quarterly, half yearly and annually.
Following a spy ring bust last year, the Navy had also banned and restricted 85 applications, including Facebook, Instagram, WeChat, Viber, Tumblr, Reddit and Truecaller.
The Indian Air Force is yet to come out with a similar list, but has a social media policy in place.
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