By Aarti Tikoo Singh
New Delhi, Feb 8 (IANS) The ban imposed by the Indian Army on the usage of 89 smartphone applications, including social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, since June last year, has been highly successful. Of the 1.3 million strong Indian Army, only eight personnel were found to have violated the ban.
Official sources told IANS that at least 730 Army officers have been authorised to enforce the ban which came into effect last year, on July 15. The apps included 59 Chinese apps banned by the government for general public. But strikingly, the Army also banned the usage of common apps like WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Ella, Snapchat, PubG, Messenger, TrueCaller, anti-virus 360 Security, Tinder, Tumbler, Reditt, Hungama, Songs.pk, Cam Scanner, Ok Cupid, Tumbler, Daily Hunt and others. Most of the applications are American and Chinese.
Following the violence face-off between India and China along the Line of Actual Control in Eastern Ladakh last year, the Army imposed the ban to prevent cyber attacks, illegal accumulation of digital data and leakage of sensitive information. In last few years, several cases of Army personnel were discovered where they were honey-trapped on Facebook resulting in leakage of sensitive information related to the Indian military and the government.
“Till five years ago, everything was open to our personnel. Anyone could access anything,” an official said. Though the Army had been issuing several directives on the use of Facebook for personal life and WhatsApp for official work, but only in June last year, it made stringent rules for the violations.
The ban has been enforced by seeking undertakings from each soldier and officer across the country, that they have deleted their accounts and they have not installed any of the applications on their phones.
Official sources told IANS that around 730 authorised officers are to review if the Army personnel are abiding by the rule every now and then and issue certificates of compliance. Only eight cases were found to be in violation of the rules, sources said adding that the punishment for violations includes conventional penalties in the Army for indiscipline.
In some cases, the personnel have been asked to carry sand sacks on their backs and run on the ground for a whole week, sources said. In serious cases, sources said, the punishment can be severe, including suspension or termination of services. “But Indian Army is a highly disciplined institution and the ban has been quite effective so far,” an officer said.
Within the military institutions, academies and offices, the Army, is however allowed to access platforms like Facebook on their internet browsers on their desktops to monitor content. But no personnel is allowed to have an account or the application, sources said.
Army sources said everyone in the military now connects with their families and friends in the old way: “We all speak on phone instead of private messengers and social media.” The families of the Army personnel and officers are, however, not bound by the directive. “They are common citizens who are entitled to the same rights as others,” an official said.
There are some in-house applications like Sandesh and Vishesh which Army personnel have been using for messaging purposes as an alternative to WhatsApp, sources said.