Centre bans 14 apps in J&K citing use by terror organisations

The order largely targets encrypted messaging apps that government officials say have enabled terrorists to communicate undetected

May 01, 2023 10:51 am | Updated 10:29 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Image for representation purpose only.

Image for representation purpose only.

The Union Government instructed service providers to ban 14 applications in Jammu and Kashmir, following recommendations by the Ministry of Home Affairs, officials said. Most of the apps are communication platforms that allow encrypted messaging, which the government said has been used by terror organisations in the region.

Officials, including Jammu & Kashmir Police, had initially also recommended that the popular messaging platform Snapchat be included among these apps, but the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology ultimately did not include it.

The list of apps was determined after authorities examined phones used by detained operatives, an official said.

The other banned apps include Threema, a messaging app that requires a paying subscription to use. “We strongly believe in free speech and privacy as a human right and have built our app from the ground up with security and privacy in mind,” Julia Weiss, a Threema spokesperson, told The Hindu in a statement. “Internet censorship is the means of a totalitarian society. We are convinced that Indian citizens do not appreciate this either ... We will closely watch the situation and take legal measures if appropriate or needed.”

Zangi, another popular private messaging app that doesn’t collect users’ phone numbers to let them register, is also banned. Other blocked apps are Crypviser and BChat, which say on their websites that they use blockchain technology to encrypt messages sent by users. Wickr Me is also a messaging app owned by Amazon Web Services that will not be available after 2023. File-sharing service Mediafire is also in the list.

Briar, one of the banned apps, is a peer-to-peer messaging service that uses Bluetooth and other technologies to let users communicate even if they are not connected to the Internet. A similar app, Firefly, was used by protesters in Hong Kong during its pro-democracy protests. Nandbox, which is also reportedly blocked, is an app-building platform that says on its website that it allows users to build their own messaging app.

“We weren’t contacted by the Indian government before the app was blocked and we haven’t received a copy of the blocking order,” Michael Rogers, one of the founding members behind the Briar Project, told The Hindu in an emailed response. “The first we knew about this was reading about it in the news.” Mr. Rogers said the project would be reaching out to “friends at digital rights organisations” to explore options to challenge the blocking order.

While platforms like WhatsApp use end-to-end encryption for the content of messages, the Meta-owned platform provides so-called metadata, such as a user’s phone book and call history upon request from law enforcement authorities in response to legal requests.

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