The Tamil Nadu Police Department has issued instructions to create a WhatsApp group for every police station across the state. According to a notice by the Director General of Police, the move is aimed recording the “good work” done in the cities and districts.
“All CsOP in cities and SsP in Districts are instructed to create a WhatsApp Group in each Police Station in all the Cities and Districts. The Admin of the WhatsApp group should be the SHOs(Inspectors / Sub-Inspectors) of the respective Police Stations. In the WhatsApp group the Good Work done in the Cities/ Districts should be uploaded with photo/ video along with small writeup.”(sic) read the notice.
While experts point out that the mandatory creation of these groups is in contravention of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) guidelines on cloud services, police personnel say that it is a burden for an overworked force. Moreover, many police stations had added people living under its jurisdictions into these groups.
Speaking to TNM, Rohini Lakshané, Director (Emerging Research), The Bachchao Project says that an open-source application which could be audited is a far better option, compared to WhatsApp.
“In April 2017, the MeitY issued guidelines on setting up IT infrastructure by government departments that use cloud computing. According to the guidelines, even for contractual services, the contract should mention the condition for data localisation, that is, that the physical location of data storage should be within the country. When the government does not have a contract with a third party -- in this case WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook -- the validity of the order that requires government employees to install a third-party software and use it for official work is questionable,” she says.
According to the Guidelines for Government Departments On Contractual Terms Related to Cloud Services, “The terms and conditions of the Empanelment of the Cloud Service Provider has taken care of this requirement(location of data) by stating that all services including data will be guaranteed to reside in India.”
Rohini also points out that making it mandatory for official purposes to install a mobile app that requires several sensitive permissions on the device is also a violation of personal privacy. “If the rationale behind the proposed WhatsApp groups is that they are not intended for the circulation of sensitive or confidential information of the state, then the police department might as well use an app with open source software that can be independently audited for security and does not have privacy implications for its personnel. Several policies and frameworks of the government encourage the use of open source software in governance.” she suggests.
Meanwhile, officers in the police department say that for overstretched force, this adds to the workload and would ultimately fall to the junior police officers.
“They are forcing us to be in charge of WhatsApp groups. We are already doing documentation through records and are in many WhatsApp groups with journalists and friends of police. This is an extra burden for us. We will keep getting notification even when we are on leave. We are also people. We ourselves are not clear about how this rule will work,” says one police constable from Chennai on the condition of anonymity.