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2G internet on postpaid, broadband partially restored in J&K for accessing only ‘white-listed’ websites

Internet Shutdown
Internet Shutdown

2G internet services on post paid mobiles will be restored in the districts of Jammu, Samba, Kathua, Udhampur and Reasi on January 15, but only for accessing “white-listed sites,” according to an order by  the Home Department of the Jammu and Kashmir government. Whitelisted sites include government websites and e-banking websites, according to the order. The order also directed internet service providers to enable broadband internet (with Mac-binding) to banks, hospitals, government offices, hotels and tour and travel establishments. Mac binding reserves a static IP address. It also directed the Divisional Administration of Kashmir to install 400 internet kiosks. Directions prescribed in the order will be in effect for a week.

The Supreme Court had said that access to the internet is part of free speech: This order comes days after the Supreme Court, on January 10, declared that the right to internet is also part of freedom of speech and expression, and an indefinite ban on the internet is an abuse of power. The court ordered the Jammu & Kashmir administration to review all restrictive orders within seven days, and put out all restrictive orders since August last year so that they can be challenged in a court of law. It also said that suspending the internet should be reviewed hereon, and such suspension could only be for a limited time period and is subject to judicial scrutiny.

Social media, VPNs will not be accessible

The government clarified that ISPs will have to install “necessary firewalls” and carry out the white-listing of websites — meaning that the onus is on the ISP to block access to everything that doesn’t fall under the definition of “white-listed” websites according the order.  The order categorically said that access to social media websites will be completely restricted and this also extends to websites that allow for peer to peer communication and virtual private networks (VPN).

Heavy scrutiny of Internet access

The institutions and government offices that are being provided with with internet access will be responsible to “prevent any misuse,” and will have to:

  • Appoint nodal officers (The order did not specify how many, and for what purpose)
  • Keep a record of persons/devices and manage and monitor day to day usage,
  • Changing accessibility credentials on a daily basis and ensure that only “authorised users” can access the internet in their premises.

The “internet restoration” order, as a whole, seems more restrictive than enabling

First, it allows 2G mobile internet, i) only for post paid mobile users; ii) only for accessing white-listed websites; iii) only in 5 districts. This means that a vast population of Jammu and Kashmir, especially in the Kashmir region, will continue to live under the internet blackout that has been in place since August 4, 2019. Advocacy group, the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) said that 96.68% of internet users in the area depend on mobile internet services, hence the restrictions remain in several districts.

Secondly, it is potentially violative of net neutrality. Anivar Aravind, an independent researcher, highlighted that “white-listing” of websites is a violation of net neutrality.

Thirdly, it impairs freedom of speech. IFF said that the “severe restrictions,” including white-listing, blocking access to social media and VPNs, and maintaining daily logs of access, “would impair free expression and privacy”.

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