With smart phones making huge proliferation in ranks of security forces, the government has issued fresh guidelines for regulating sharing of secret operational and service data on such platforms involving troops and officers of central paramilitary forces, violation of which will invite “strict legal action”. The three-page guidelines, issued by the Home Ministry recently and notified to Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) headquarters at the capital, speak specifically of instances where force personnel have used personal cell phones to click pictures of an ongoing or concluded ambush or operation which later finds it way on media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram and others.
The directives state that these are a reiteration and enhancement of the existing directives in this regard, but address some specific issues.
The latest order by the Union Home Ministry said there was a “strong need” to issue the do’s and dont’s afresh as it “has come to the notice of government that there have been instances where mobile phones and cameras of force personnel have been used for operational coverage and sensitive material was uploaded on social media without official permission.”
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The fresh directives stipulate legal action against defaulting personnel.
“Any such photo, video, among others are meant strictly for official use only and any unauthorised disclosure of confidential operations related information by uploading operational material onto social media sites is a serious breach of rules and may lead to charges being laid against offending force employees,” the guidelines, accessed by PTI, said.
However, senior officials in these forces pointed out a loophole in this directive, saying in a number of operations multiple agencies like state police and army are involved and as these guidelines are not applicable on them, there could still be chances and instances of an information breach and subsequent sharing of multimedia on Internet-based social media platforms.
The guidelines add that “divulging” of such information on social media without permission of competent authority is “against National Information Security Policy and guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs and government”.
The brief guidelines do not make it amply clear what is to be released and what is to be held back during operations and even what construes to be an operational activity, officials said, citing an instance mentioned in the new directives which state that videos of training drills of these men and women “discloses methodology” of forces which “directly compromise safety of officers and men in operations.”
The guidelines have also mandated that the respective chiefs (Directors General) of these forces like the Central Reserve Police Force, Border Security Force, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Central Industrial Security Force, Sashastra Seema Bal and the National Security Guard (NSG) will be the authorities mandated to clear release of pictures, videos, text and other information on “operations and other service matters” on social media either via the official handles of these forces or directly to the media (journalists).
The guidelines, framed after a number of meetings were held between senior officials of these forces and the Union Home Ministry in the last few months, stipulate that only official force cameras and recorders should be used to capture any picture or video of a captured or neutralised terrorist/militant and seizures of arms and ammunition made by them.
It adds that in case when official cameras or recorders are not available at the encounter spot and private cameras or cellphones are used in the aftermath of an operation it “should immediately be surrendered to the appropriate authority for official use with clearances of appropriate levels and then thereafter ensured that the same has been deleted from the private camera/smartphone among others.”
The new guidelines conclude that any violations of these points or any other standing order in this regard will invite “strict action against defaulters under the existing laws and rules.”
All the CAPFs, except NSG, now have their Twitter and Facebook handles and they post general information about the activities in their respective domains after obtaining clearances from the top command.
Officials estimate that over 75 per cent of troops in these forces now have smartphones which can capture pictures and videos with good clarity.