The Delhi High Court on Tuesday asked a senior Army officer to either follow his organisation’s directive to all personnel to remove 89 mobile applications, including Facebook and Instagram, or resign from service, PTI reported.
A Bench of Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw and Justice Asha Menon declined to entertain the plea of Lieutenant Colonel PK Choudhary, who is currently serving in Jammu and Kashmir, to retain his Facebook account in deactivated form. The court said the Army’s recent directive was concerning the safety and security of the country.
Choudhary argued that all the Facebook data related to his account, including contacts and friends list, once deleted would be “irretrievably lost”. He also called the loss irreversible.
The judges said the Army officer can create a new social media account later, adding that he has to abide by the mandate of the organisation. “You please delete it,” the court said. “You can always create a new one. It cannot work like this. You are part of an organisation...If you are so dear to Facebook, then put in your papers. See you have to make a choice, what do you want to do. You have other choices which are also irreversible.”
The court said there is no reason yet to entertain the petition and therefore the question of granting interim relief does not arise.
In his petition, Choudhary said he is an active Facebook user and uses the platform to connect with his family in the United States. However, the Centre’s counsel argued that other forms of communication were available for the Army officer to interact with those settled abroad. “We found that Facebook was a bug,” Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma said. “It was infiltrating as a cyber warfare and there were so many instances of personnel being targeted.”
Choudhary said that the order issued on June 6 violated various fundamental rights under the Constitution, including the right to freedom of speech and expression and right to privacy. “The orders of banning use and deletion of soldier’s profiles and data from social networking websites is characteristic of authoritarian regimes and is against the democratic and constitutional foundation of India,” the petition added. “It is submitted that no other professional army serving in a constitutional democracy has put such unreasonable and mindless restrictions on its soldiers.”
The judges asked the Centre’s counsel to file the policy document in a sealed cover and listed the matter for hearing on July 21.
The Army’s ban order covers a range of apps across domains like messaging, content sharing, web browsers, video hosting, gaming, e-commerce, dating, anti-virus, news and music among others. Last month, India banned 59 mobile applications, including TikTok, which have Chinese links, as diplomatic relations between India and China plummeted after a violent clash on the Line of Actual Control.
There have been several cases of personnel being virtually honey-trapped on social media platforms, leading to risk of sharing of sensitive information.