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J&K police lodge FIR against people for using social media via VPNs; Our take

The Jammu & Kahsmir police on Monday lodged an FIR against people for using social media platforms via VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), reported the Indian Express.

Why was the FIR lodged? The FIR has been lodged taking note of the social media posts by ‘miscreants’ using VPNs, which allegedly ‘spread rumours regarding the current security situation in Kashmir, secessionist ideology, and glorifying terrorists’, the police said, per the publication.

It was lodged under UAPA, IPC, and Section 66A of the IT Act: The FIR has been lodged under Section 13 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, Sections 188 and 505 of the Indian Penal Code, and Section 66A of the Information Technology Act. Section 66A was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2015.

“Taking a serious note of the misuse of social media, the Cyber Police Station, Kashmir Zone, Srinagar, has registered an FIR against various social media users, who defied the government orders and misused the social media platforms,” a Srinagar-based police spokesman said on Monday, per the report. Inspector General of Police Vijay Kumar appealed to the general public not to use social media via VPNs, per the report.

J&K government reiterated social media and VPN ban: The J&K government had on February 15 reiterated the ban on social media applications and VPN applications, and said that reports had been received from intelligence and law enforcement agencies that social media sites are being accessed through VPN applications “for coordinating terror activities” and “to upload provocative material aimed at disturbing public order”.

Internet access in J&K: The Jammu & Kashmir government restored limited access — it restored 2G internet to only 301 whitelisted websites on January 27. The government whitelisted another 180 websites to the whitelist on February 7, and another 1,000 websites to the list on February 15. The erstwhile state was was under the longest internet shutdown in the world, which started on August 5 with the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution. The shutdown continued until the Supreme Court on January 11 ordered a review of the internet blackout, in response to a petition by Kashmiri journalist and editor Anuradha Bhasin.

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MediaNama’s take

Nikhil adds: If you read the order, the VPN ban is applicable to ISPs, which are supposed to prevent the usage of VPNs. There is nothing in the order that makes circumvention of this order by Internet users illegal, and a cause for arrest. VPNs cannot and should not be banned: in the age of surveillance, they provide some privacy to individuals for their Internet usage. A ban on VPNs would be disproportionate, and a violation of the fundamental right to privacy, which also has a chilling effect on free speech. Of course, given the Indian government’s authoritarian clamp-down on Kashmir, and its disproportionate and possibly illegal usage of laws to arrest political leaders, censor speech, control the media narrative and convert an entire state into a prison, nothing is surprising anymore. The rest of India should be worried about this approach being used on them at some point in time.

Read more: Crackdown against VPN usage in Kashmir

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