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Mobile internet in Kashmir snapped twice in a month; What can be done instead

Mobile internet services were snapped for the second time across Kashmir this month, Greater Kashmir reports. According to reports, mobile Internet services could remain suspended for next four days, though there was no immediate official confirmation. Internet services were cut following student protests across universities and colleges. The incident was sparked as some students in Pulwama Degree College were beaten by government forces, the publication added.

Note that 2G services were spared from the shutdown. Earlier on April 8, both broadband and mobile Internet services were suspended on the eve of the by-polls to the Srinagar parliamentary seat. Mobile Internet has been cut in Kashmir has been multiple times. The longest internet shutdown was for about 6 months from July to January, although mobile internet services on postpaid were restored a little earlier in November 2016.

Last month, both SMS and internet/data services were suspended in Nagaland from the 30th of January, which were restored only earlier this week on the 20th of February after being blocked for 20 days. The block was initiated to prevent the spread of violence in the state.

Typically bans such as this are enforced under Section 144 of the CrPC (Criminal Procedure Code) which allows local law administration to ban unlawful assembly and justify short bans on Internet services. The number of Internet blocks has increased dramatically with the Supreme Court’s ruling which upheld the districts and states’ right to ban mobile Internet services for maintaining law and order in February last year.

Do internet shutdowns help?

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In December 2016, district magistrates in Manipur’s Imphal West and Imphal East snapped mobile Internet as they faced a law and order situation. The magistrates justified the move as they were unable to control “spreading rumours through mobile data by using social media like Facebook, WhatsApp, Hike, Messenger, and Viber etc.”

Internet shutdowns only led to increased social tension among the public. As we pointed out before, the inability to communicate creates an environment of fear, rather than addresses it, as people lose the ability to communicate with friends and family, via email and messaging, and also lose access to information via news websites and social media.

Shutting down access to communications (the ability to transmit and receive speech) is a suspension of fundamental rights and should be used in the rarest of cases. But frequently, authorities resort to internet shutdowns because of their inability to control a situation. In fact, mobile internet was shut down for something as frivolous as preventing students from cheating on an exam and spreading rumours regarding demonetization.

Authorities can perhaps look at the following methods for law and order:

– Counter speech from Law Enforcement Agencies: Police should proactively share information about the incident and issue clarifications. One solution is for the state to put out more information, and build trust with citizens. A proactive approach by the government to stem the flow of a rumour can nip any potential agitation in the bud.
– Social Media Monitoring: In a #NAMA event journalist Saikat Datta mentioned that police could open source intelligence, the way Mumbai Police has done by monitoring social media. “You use open software tools, with constables and inspectors trained to look for certain keywords, looking a the congregation of tweets and Facebook posts. At the opportune moment, when there are rumours, or they see a bump in tensions, they use their current deployments, so that forces can move in quickly and calm things down.”
– Community Policing: Datta had added that, police could start building communities online and start engaging with citizens. Bangalore and Mumbai police are stellar examples.

Image credit: Flickr user Ben Dalton under CCBY2.0

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