Rise of Lateral Surveillance in India

Synopsis:  The notification on the IT rules 2021 promotes lateral surveillance. It has given a new meaning to ‘Citizen watch’.  


The Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C), under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), launched the Cyber Crime Volunteers Program. It aims to allow citizens to register themselves as “Cyber Crime Volunteers’’ in the role of “Unlawful Content Flaggers”.

  • The programme will help law enforcement agencies in identifying, reporting and removal of illegal/unlawful online content.
  • The programme will be launched all over the country. It is going to have its test run in Jammu and Kashmir and Tripura.
What is lateral surveillance?
  • The surveillance in which citizens watch over one another is called lateral surveillance. 
  • Main Features of lateral surveillance:
    • It is different from typical surveillance. In the typical surveillance, there is a vertical relationship between those being watched(citizenry) and those who are watching(the state).
    • The lateral surveillance specifically ensures that the imbalance of power no longer exists.
    • It is a form of community policing.
  • The United States had the neighbourhood watch scheme. It increased community policing in the 1970s. With the introduction of technology and the development of applications such as Citizen and Next door, monitoring of people and their behaviour has become easier.
What is the extent of lateral surveillance in India, and what are its impacts?

The state-sponsored lateral surveillance has been implemented in India earlier as well. For example, the C-Plan App in Uttar Pradesh launched for keeping a tab on anti-social elements. It is designed to receive inputs from certain identified individuals in villages across the State.

  1. Firstly, these individuals have been given the responsibility to solve local problems such as providing information about boiling communal tensions or land disputes taking place in their own villages through the mobile application. 
  2. Secondly, the scope of lateral surveillance expanded during the pandemic lockdown. For instance, the Karnataka government released a PDF with the names and addresses of around 19,000 international passengers who were quarantined in Bengaluru. 
  3. Thirdly, lateral surveillance may create a situation where privacy could get weakened for the betterment of the community. 
  4. Fourthly, It can act as a tool for social exclusion. Lateral surveillance makes it easier to discriminate between those who do not conform to the social norms of the majority.
    • For example, the LGBT community in South Korea faced harsh comments from the homophobic majority when coronavirus cases were reported from the area where they resided. 
  5. Fifthly, it is harmful because it creates an environment of hate, fear and constant suspicion.  This method gives people a duty of keeping an eye out for their own safety which results in an increase in fear of crime in society.
  6. Sixthly, these threats will increase intolerance, prejudice, racism and casteism in our society. It will also violate the fundamental right to privacy right of free speech.
What will be the outcome of the policy?
  • The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 also promotes lateral surveillance. 
    • For example, there is a provision relating to the user-directed removal of non-consensual sexually explicit content. It will enable mediators to remove or disable access to the information within a short period of time of being notified by users.
  • This may result in taking down content and sharing user data without sufficient due process safeguards, violating the fundamental right to privacy and freedom of expression. 


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