New Delhi: A division bench of the Delhi High Court has refused to grant relief to a senior army officer, who had pleaded against the order of the Indian Army to ban its officers from using social networking platforms.
“If Facebook is so dear to you, then put in your papers. You’ll have to make a choice,” said the division bench presided over by Justices Rajiv Sahai Endlaw and Asha Menon on Tuesday.
The officer had approached the court on Monday against the Indian Army’s order banning the army officers from using social networking platforms like Facebook, Instagram, etc.
The court said he has to take a decision and also asked the army official to delete his FB account as the policy to ban the use of social networking platforms for army personnel was initiated keeping in view the national security of the country.
“The question of granting any interim relief does not arise, especially when the matter has the potential of concerning the safety and security of the country,” the bench said.
The observations came in while the court was hearing a petition filed by Lieutenant Colonel P. K. Choudhary which sought the court’s direction to the Director General of Military Intelligence (DGMI) to withdraw its policy which had ordered the officials of the Indian Army to delete their accounts from social networking platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
During the hearing, Choudhary contended that once deleted all the data, he would loose all his friends and contacts which are there on the said social media platform. “No, you please delete it. You can always create a new one. It cannot continue like this,” the bench said.
The petition filed through advocates Shivank Pratap Singh and Sanandika Pratap Singh stated that the said policy issued by the DGMI banned usage of 89 applications and websites and directed deletion of accounts on the said websites and applications. The ban and direction of deletion are applicable to all ranks of the Indian Army.
“The soldiers rely on social networking platforms like Facebook to address various issues arising in their families while posted in remote locations and often use the virtual connect to compensate for the physical distance existing between themselves and their families,” the plea said.
The plea further stated that the Indian Army soldiers serve in remote areas, extreme weather conditions, difficult terrain, with the lingering threat of an enemy attack at all times. The aforesaid conditions, in addition to taking a great toll physically, also have a considerable adverse impact on the mental health of the soldiers.
“These conditions have to be borne by the soldiers being far away from their families, friends and other loved ones, the professional hazards are a direct cause of soldiers committing suicides and in some cases shooting at their fellow soldiers before taking their own lives,” the petitioner said.
“With the advent of the internet age, in particular 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 by soldiers on a daily basis due to the harsh conditions of service,” the plea said.
The petitioner stated that he verily believes that the provisions pertaining to the ban of usage of social networking platforms including Facebook and Instagram and the direction to delete accounts violate various fundamental rights under the Constitution including the right to freedom of speech and expression and right to privacy.
“Websites and applications like Facebook and Instagram have become more popular modes of communication than the traditional modes of communication, in fact India has the largest number of users on Facebook in the world,” said the petitioner.
The plea also stated that the DGMI cited security concerns and the risks of data breach as the basis of imposing the restrictions contained in the policy regarding 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 to the said persons,” the petition said.
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, it added.
While posting the matter for further hearing on July 21, the bench asked Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Chetan Sharma to file the policy document in a sealed cover for perusal of the court.
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