Centre for Internet & Society

The city's privacy activists are among the most strident in trying to prevent the Union government from gaining unprecedented access to citizens' personal information through Aadhaar. But in their own backyard, Bengaluru police have been publishing on Twitter the phone numbers of thousands of citizens reporting various crimes such as gambling on the streets, random quarrels and harassment of women.

The article by Umesh Yadav was published in the Times of India on April 6, 2017. Pranesh Prakash was quoted.

The police control room has put out more than 46,000 tweets since April 2015 containing the numbers of complainants calling the emergency number 100. The phone numbers of citizens reaching the control room through Bengaluru police's new emergency mobile application, Suraksha, too are being published through this handle.

Thankfully, the Twitter handle, @BCPCR, had a mere 66 followers as on the evening of April 5, nearly 30 per cent of which were various police stations in the city. On Wednesday evening, the police closed the account for public view.

ET has screenshots of tweets from the account. A senior police officer at Bengaluru police's Command Control was unapologetic for the breach of privacy. The tweets are generated automatically and meant to `show' the number of calls received by the control room and the number of people using the new app, he said.

On the matter of compromising the safety of the complainants, the officer said, "It is obvious that the accused will know who registered the complaint and privacy does not matter here."

Expectedly, privacy and law experts are indignant.

"This is horrible and unpardonable," said Supreme Court advocate KV Dhananjay. "The fact that the police did not consider it necessary to ask for permission before broadcasting someone's identity shows how insensitive the Police Commissioner's office has become to the privacy concern of our society." Pranesh Prakash, Policy Director at the Centre for Internet and Society and who has been at the forefront of the campaign against any potential misuse of Aadhaar, too said the "police officer who ordered to create such an account should be held responsible if any harm comes to a complainant."

Complainants ET spoke with were startled about the abuse of their privacy. Gowda, a complainant, who had informed the police control room about the sale of cigarettes within 100 metres of a school, had specifically requested the police to not disclose his identity.

"(This is why) it is better to keep quiet when you see lawbreakers," he said on hearing that Bengaluru police had published his phone number on Twitter.

"This is injustice and this is the reason why people are scared to inform the police of crimes. If the accused send people to beat me, what should I do?" Dhanusha had called the control room about some teenagers who were teasing girls at a bus stop. The police arrived and took the boys in. She, too, is now worried. "If the accused get my number, they are going to harass me. The police do not have any right to display our phone numbers in public."