Less than a week since MediaNama’s open house discussion on Internet shutdowns in Delhi, mobile Internet was shut down again in Kashmir, the Daily Excelsior reports. What’s interesting is that shutdown includes also includes BSNL. Kashmiri journalists in the open discussion pointed that BSNL partially evades network shutdowns since it’s used by bureaucrats and police. The shutdown happened in North Kashmir in the Kupwara, Handwara, Sopore and Baramulla districts. This follows reports that three “foreign militants”, as well as a civilian woman, were shot down by security forces. Kashmir has had several shutdowns this year; in 2017, Internet shutdowns have nearly doubled in number compared to last year. Late last month, Internet was shut down in thirteen districts as a “preventive measure” in Haryana.
Internet shutdowns have been very common in Kashmir, where authorities frequently order telecom providers to shut down Internet services to arrest the spread of rumours from services like WhatsApp. Earlier this year, it seemed as though they would begin to take a more surgical approach than blocking Internet access altogether. In April, the government banned several social media services, as opposed to disabling internet access altogether. It’s unclear why they didn’t do the same thing this time around, although perhaps that could be due to reports that Kashmiris were able to evade the ban altogether by tunnelling their Internet traffic through other countries.
In August, the central government notified some rules for Internet shutdowns to bring about clarity in which government officials can issue them. These rules don’t really add any transparency to the process, though, and were issued without consultation.
Kanshmiri journalist speaking at #namapolicy event: any time anything happens the first casualty is the internet. He says nobody can rely on the Internet in Kashmir anymore, it’s too unreliable. Ecommerce sector & jobs devastated. Education, medicine, all affected.
— Rebecca MacKinnon (@rmack) December 6, 2017
It’s unclear whether any alternatives were looked at before the shutdown was ordered. As we have pointed out before:
“The only option [administrators feel exist to stop spread of rumours] is to pause the spread of information, give the administration some time to allow things to calm down, because they’re overwhelmed with dealing with addressing the situation while also trying to deal with the spread of the information that is causing the situation; one situation less to deal with helps.”
One interesting alternative that came up in this year’s open house discussion was area-specific disabling of end-to-end encryption on messaging services like WhatsApp. Another that has been discussed in the past is better investigative due diligence for rumour-mongering: since every forwarded message can usually be traced back to the source in less than six individuals, a participant said, investigators need to routinely identify rumour-mongers so they know that they will not remain immune from investigation.
Read our coverage of our previous open house discussion on Internet shutdowns here:
- The impact of Internet shutdowns
- Why governments shut the Internet down, and legal issues with their approach
- Alternatives to Internet shutdowns
Our live tweets from this year’s #NAMApolicy open house discussion on the Impact of Internet Shutdowns are available here.