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A PIL has been moved in the Kerala High Court seeking a ban on the online messaging platform Telegram, citing the lack of government control in curbing the misuse of the application for crimes.
The plea has been filed by Athena Solomon, a student of the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bangalore, through Advocate Manas P Hameed. It highlights that Telegram is being used for the circulation of inappropriate, obscene, voyeuristic and vulgar sexual content, featuring women and children, as well as a platform for communication by terrorists and criminals.
As noted in Solomon’s petition, the messaging application was originally launched in Russia, with a view to build a means of communication that cannot be accessed by the Russian security agencies. As per the plea, Telegram is distinct from other social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc. in terms of the degree of anonymity that the user enjoys. In this regard, the plea states,
“Unlike other social media platforms like “WhatsApp”, “Facebook”, “Instagram”, “Twitter”, etc, the person who shares obscene contents which infringes the privacy of others, will remain hidden since the user can conceal his identity in Telegram. Therefore, the investigating agencies are also unable to initiate proper investigation or trace out the culprit whereas in the case of other social media applications, the user can be easily traced out and identified…When other social media platforms are regulated by the Government, ‘Telegram’ could not be controlled since it has not Evan a nodal officer in India…Telegram is still operating freely. Telegram is a different world for its users with no government control (sic).”
While this is the case, Solomon points out that Telegram has no nodal officer or registered office in India. The operation of Telegram in this manner makes it all the more difficult to fix responsibility for the crimes carried out through the platform. As noted in the petition,
“It has no nodal officer or a registered office in India. It is operating in India without any license from any authorities. The platform allows any person to post any texts/images/videos anonymously in group/channe/bots and it keeps the details of the users a secret (sic).“
The problems associated with user anonymity on Telegram is also explained with reference to the option of joining groups/channels on the application, wherein objectionable content can be anonymously posted and accessed.
“A user of the Telegram application can join any of the Saif groups/channels/bots at any time without approval of any administrator and he can watch and share any content without restrictions. These contents are visible to each and every user joining at any point of time. Further thee pornography groups/channels/bots are having no source identification like who are the creators or who all have posted pornography contents..or who have joined.”
To support her claims regarding the seriousness of the issue, Solomon also refers to recent reports involving the misuse of the Telegram. This includes the arrest of an 11 member gang in Kerala involved in spreading child pornography through Telegram in April this year and the arrest of persons found to have also shared content on how to groom children for sexual abuse in December 2017.
The petition also points out that three women committed suicide this year alone, after objectionable videos of them, recorded without their consent, were circulated through the app. It is also noted that the app grew in popularity following the Central Government’s decision to block pornography sites, suggesting that such content is readily accessible on Telegram.
The petitioner further points out that the platform has already been banned in Russia and Indonesia, citing national security risks.
In view of these concerns, Solomon has prayed that the Court direct the authorities to block access to Telegram in India. It is also prayed that the Government be directed to ensure that all internet-based applications in India operate in compliance with Indian laws.