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Laxmi asked: How do social networking sites affect India’s security? Should it be regulated?

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  • Shruti Pandalai replies: Social networking sites (or social media) and the challenges that it throws up in the space of cyber-warfare are indeed issues that have drawn the attention of security and law enforcement agencies in recent times. The mass exodus of a number of northeast Indians from many parts of India in the aftermath of the ethnic strife in Assam, triggered by a cyber hate campaign in 2012, was a major turning point (for more on this, refer to my comment, “Don’t Shoot the Messenger: The ‘Un-Social’ Strategy”, at http://www.idsa.in/idsacomments/DontShoottheMessengerTheUnSocialStrategy...). However, from a long term perspective, shooting the messenger may not be the most ideal solution. As technology grows, so will the challenges. In such a scenario, engaging with the medium and optimising its potential for our advantage is the way forward.

    Social media analysis generated intelligence or SOCMINT is being developed as a successful model in many countries abroad to isolate hotspots or subjects that go viral and is used as a predictive tool. India too is looking at these models, but is still at the stage of experimentation, trial and error. The Mumbai Police has launched a project called “Social Media Lab”, the first of its kind in the country. The lab would monitor relevant information from Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, as well as all other open sources in the public domain. About 20 specially-trained officers are supposed to work in shifts.

    We need many more such pilot projects across the country to develop a truly credible data base and this will require huge investments in terms of both infrastructure and human resource. We also need to work on network availability constraints, language barriers and, most importantly, organisational adaptability in terms of this new medium. There are also pressing questions regarding rights to privacy, misuse of data and loopholes in the legal regime that needs to be navigated.

    This is still a work in progress, yet I believe engagement and not regulation is truly the way forward.

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