A petition against an order by the Director-General of Military Intelligence was filed before the Delhi High Court, asking all Indian Army personnel to uninstall Facebook, Instagram, and 87 other social media applications.
The petition was filed by a serving lieutenant colonel who, in the absence of access to social media, finds it difficult to communicate with his family residing outside India.
He submitted that from time to time he is using his Facebook account responsibly in compliance with the guidelines provided by the Indian Army, and he has never posted any confidential or sensitive details about his position and duties as an Indian Army officer over Facebook or any other social networking site.
"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 connection to compensate for the physical distance existing between themselves and their families," the plea states.
It is contended that the ban violates various fundamental rights of the Petitioner under the Constitution, including the right to freedom of speech and expression and right to privacy, whereas the power to modify fundamental rights of members of armed forces rests with the Parliament alone.
"Article 33 permits the Parliament, by law, to modify fundamental rights by members of armed forces i.e, Soldiers. The Respondent No.1 is not the Parliament. Ban on use of social networking platforms and order to delete accounts vide the Policy is an attempt by the Respondent No.1 to usurp and assume powers which are vested exclusively with the Parliament in terms of Article 33," the Petitioner argues. Reliance is placed on Union of India v. G.S. Bajwa, (2003) 9 SCC 630.
It is also submitted that the restrictions contained in the Policy, particularly relating to ban on the use of social networking platforms and deletion of accounts therein are not contemplated under Section 21 (Power to modify certain fundamental rights in their application to persons subject to this Act) of the Army Act, 1950 and or the Rules framed by the Central Government in terms of the said provision.
The Petitioner pointed out that while on the one hand soldiers are told to avoid using all major social media sites and remove their user accounts, on the other hand, the Respondents devise strategies to sensitize soldiers and educate them on social networking platforms to conduct them appropriately and safely.
"Such contradictions in the Policy are a testament to the nonapplication of mind while formulating the same," the Petitioner remarks.
Further, it is contended that the policy is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution in as much as 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. However, no restrictions on the use of social media apply to the said persons.
Therefore, the Petitioner has prayed to the High Court to order the Respondent to revoke its "draconian" policy of 6th June 2020, to the degree that it forbids the military personnel from using social media or allows them to delete their accounts.
He has also requested a guarantee that, under the constitution or any other statute, the Director-General of Military Intelligence is not allowed to alter, change or abrogate the constitutional rights of the members of the armed forces.
The petition was filed via Advocates Shivank Pratap Singh and Sanandika Pratap Singh and will be classified tomorrow, 14th July 2020, for hearing.