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153 websites whitelisted for access in parts of Jammu and Kashmir

Internet Shutdown
Internet Shutdown

Days after the Jammu and Kashmir government said that it would allow 2G post paid mobile users to access only “white-listed” websites, the administration released a list of 153 websites that have been whitelisted in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir. This direction came into effect on January 18, and shall remain in force until January 24. We have reached out to UT’s Home Department, and Information and Public Relations Department to learn what will happen after January 24. The list of the websites was shared by several people on Twitter, and The Wire first reported on the order.

White-listed websites include Netflix, Gmail, Paytm: Divided into 10 sections, the list of white-listed websites includes 4 email services, including Gmail and Outlook, 15 banking websites, including RBI and J&K Bank, 38 educational websites including Unacademy, Byju’s and Wikipedia, 11 entertainment websites such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hotstar and 42 utilities websites including Paytm, Zomato, Jio Chat, Amazon and Flipkart.

Other white-listed websites include 4 automakers’ websites, 20 travel websites and 13 services websites including the passport office website and income tax filing site. Notably, mainstream news websites have not been added to the list of white-listed websites. Although, as The Wire report pointed out, Hotstar does allow users to stream a handful of news channels, and moneycontrol.com also reports on business news. However, the order has categorised moneycontrol.com as a banking website, and not as a business news portal. Similarly, a few news channels can be streamed via Airtel TV, and Sony Liv.

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Restoration extended to 2 districts of Kashmir Valley: The previous order had allowed 2G internet services on post paid mobiles in the districts of Jammu, Samba, Kathua, Udhampur and Reasi. This new order further extended the service to all 10 districts of the Jammu division and 2 districts of Kashmir Valley including Kupwara and Bandipora. Also, It categorically said that mobile internet services in the districts of Srinagar, Budgam, Ganderbal, Baramulla, Anantnag, Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama will remain suspended.

Telcos will have to verify prepaid mobile users: The new order also said that verification of users of pre paid mobile phones — in line with norms applicable for post paid mobile connections — will have to be carried out by telecom service providers, since voice and SMS services have been restored on pre paid connections in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir.

A few issues with the ‘white-listed’ websites

1. Jio Chat white-listed despite allowing for peer-to-peer communication: Another important thing to note is that the earlier order had said that social media platforms, including those that allow for peer-to-peer communication will not be white-listed. However, access to Jio Chat — which provides a peer-to-peer encrypted chat functionality along with a video calling feature similar to WhatsApp — has been allowed. Also, Jio Chat has been mentioned without a URL. How exactly will access to it work? Could this mean that people with the Jio Chat app already installed on their phones will be able to use the service? Netflix, Hotstar, Amazon Prime, Airtel TV, Sony Liv, Voot and Zee5 have also been mentioned without an URL.

2. One website is invalid: Another website in the list, “hajcommitee.gov.in” is an invalid URL. There’s a website called “hajcomittee.gov.in” which takes us to the Haj Committee of India, a statutory body under the Ministry of Minority Affairs, and it appears as if the website has been misspelled. Can ISPs provide access to “hajcommittee.gov.in” when it hasn’t explicitly been mentioned in the order?

The Supreme Court had earlier said that access to the internet is part of free speech: This phased access to internet continues even though 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.

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