HC may hear plea against ban on social media use by soldiers

New Delhi:┬áThe Delhi High Court may on Tuesday hear a top army officer’s plea against the order banning the use of social networking platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, by the army personnel.

The petition, filed by Lieutenant Colonel P.K. Choudhary through advocates Shivank Pratap Singh and Sanandika Pratap Singh, has sought the court’s direction to the Director-General of Military Intelligence (DGMI) for withdrawal of the order.

The DGMI ordered the army personnel to delete their accounts from social networking platforms and had banned the use of 89 apps and websites by all army personnel.

“The soldiers rely on social networking platforms, like Facebook, to address issues arising in their families while posted in remote locations. They often use the virtual connection to compensate for the physical distance between them and their families,” the plea said.

Soldiers serve in remote areas, extreme weather conditions and difficult terrain with the lingering threat of an enemy attack all the time. All that takes a toll on soldiers’ physical and mental health, it added.

“With the advent of the internet, particularly high-speed internet connectivity over mobile networks, soldiers found an effective way to come closer to their friends, family and loved ones in the virtual world. This greatly eased the stress suffered on a daily basis due to the harsh service conditions,” the plea said.

The petitioner said the provisions pertaining to ban on the use of social networking platforms and the direction to delete accounts violated Fundamental Rights under the Constitution, including the right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to privacy.

Websites and apps, like Facebook and Instagram, had become more popular modes of communication, and India accounted for the largest number of Facebook users in the world, it said.

“The policy to the extent that it bans use of various social networking platforms by soldiers and directs soldiers to delete their accounts on Facebook is illegal, arbitrary, disproportionate and violates the Fundamental Rights of soldiers,” the petitioner said.

The DGMI, it said, had cited security concerns and risks of a data breach as the basis of imposing restrictions regarding the usage of social media platforms.

“The purported concerns and risks highlighted in the policy are not limited to being applicable to only soldiers. There are several members of the civil administration and political class, who possess information of a much higher level of sensitivity than a regular soldier and no restrictions apply them,” the petition said.

Therefore, the act of banning usage and directing deletion of accounts of soldiers from social networking platforms was a clear violation of Article 14 of the Constitution, it added.]