While the Mumbai police have maintained that they will not intrude into the private space and their activity will be limited to information in the public domain, its new social media lab has been received with scepticism from several quarters.
Anand Patwardhan, a leading activist and documentary filmmaker, said that no matter what the police say, they were always monitoring online content and this is nothing new. “While it is wrong to monitor private online content and should not happen in an ideal world, it can be taken for granted that any content one puts up online is read by the police. This practice has been going on for a long time,” Patwardhan said.
Filmmaker Pritish Nandy, who has active presence on social forums, said that as long as the police were not being intrusive, they could collect information from public forums. “They are as much users of the social media as anyone else and can utilise the information as long as they do not invade into anyone’s privacy.”
Mahesh Bhatt, another filmmaker, said the police are walking on a razor’s edge because whether they ignore a law and order situation or deal with its source, they are going to be damned nevertheless.
“There is no denying that the state or the establishment has, all through history, used this line saying that they are intruding on our privacy and are stifling free speech for the greater good. But often, we have seen that this power of surveillance has been misused,” he said. However, he pointed out that in the digital age, people have also been using anonymity and the Internet to put up objectionable content.
Ajit Ranade, economist and member of Association for Democratic Reforms said, “In a democracy, freedom of expression is one of the most crucial features. However, each society has to develop its own consensus on what is a reasonable safeguard on free speech.”