J&K to be no-social media zone for local broadband users

Internet service providers told to stop access to all platforms

Updated - January 17, 2020 09:46 pm IST

Published - January 17, 2020 09:32 pm IST - Srinagar

Army personnel at a locality at Chadoora in Central Kashmir's Budgam district during a search operation on Friday.

Army personnel at a locality at Chadoora in Central Kashmir's Budgam district during a search operation on Friday.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has kicked off a humongous exercise to consolidate its technical muscle to stop access to all platforms of the social media in Kashmir, as the J&K administration plans to restore between 2,000 to 5,000 fixed line broadband connections in phases in the Valley this month.

A senior government official told The Hindu that all Internet service providers, including private players offering lease lines and the government-run BSNL, have been asked to work on generating “a technical muscle” and “firewalls” to stop access to all platforms of the social media like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Instagram.

“There are fears that locals will log on to these social media platforms and upload videos recorded in the past five months, posing threat to the current calm in Kashmir,” a senior police officer told The Hindu . “Besides, Pakistan may also use the social media to coordinate with militants.”

The MHA and the J&K police are working on a three-page list of websites, including those offering online Islamic courses, discussion platforms on Islam and several news platforms, that may be barred from any access to the over 1.25 crore population of J&K, which has over 60 lakh Internet users.

Around 5,000 applications, mainly from the offices of government-run departments, are pending before the BSNL for restoration of fixed line broadband service. The J&K administration is considering restoration of a section of it in the first phase in Srinagar and Budgam.

Security agencies have already issued dos and don’ts for the government departments, barring generation of wi-fi connections and “unhindered access to data to the security agencies.”

The security agencies have also expressed apprehensions that China-made mobile phones pose a security threat as they are difficult to trace unlike registered phones companies like Samsung, “in case a wi-fi connection is misused.” The new directions by the security agencies will bar access of Internet to unregistered cellphones on official wi-fi connections and will make it mandatory to change passwords on a weekly basis.

So far, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and anti-insurgency cell, locally called Cargo, are nodal agencies to approve any application made for restoration of Internet in the Valley. The recent decision to restore Internet services at hospitals have been restricted to administrative matters and implementation of Central schemes.

“No academic activity is allowed on these broadband connections. In fact, no student is allowed to access the same,” a student of the Government Medical College, Srinagar, told The Hindu , on the condition of anonymity.

Sources said the J&K administration is averse to restoration of mobile-based Internet even though over five months have passed without the service. Fixedline broadband will be restored to sectors like tourism, hotel industry and varsity campuses, as these are priority areas for the government. Ironically, over 200 newspapers and other news bureaus function from a small government-run Media Facilitation Centre and may not see immediate restoration of Internet services in their offices.

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