J&K Admin Says No Internet for Media, Public ‘As Terror Threat Persists’

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Kashmiri journalists stage a protest at Press Club against suspension of internet services by the authorities. (KO Photo: Abid Bhat)

Srinagar: The J&K administration has cited possible misuse of the internet by “anti-national elements” and “terrorists” as a reason for not restoring these services for the general public and media in the Kashmir Valley.

Complying with the Supreme Court”s directions issued on January 10, the union territory’s administration on Tuesday evening ordered restoration of 2G mobile internet services on postpaid connections in five districts of Jammu division and broadband facilities in both Jammu and Kashmir divisions only for institutions dealing with essential services and tourism, such as hospitals, banks and hotels.

The order, issued by Principal Secretary, Home, Shaleen Kabra late on Tuesday, however, did not restore mobile internet services for Kashmir division.

Earlier Story: Internet Partially Restored to Hotels, Govt Offices in Kashmir

Kabra said misuse of data services by anti-national elements has the potential to cause large-scale violence and disturb public order “which has till now been maintained due to various pre-emptive measures, including restrictions on access to internet with relaxations in a calibrated and gradual manner, after due consideration of the ground situation”.

Kabra said the police authorities have brought to notice material relating to the “terror modules” operating in the union territory, including “handlers from across the border, and activities of separatists and anti-national elements within, who are attempting to aid and incite people by transmission of fake news and targeted messages through use of internet to propagate terrorism, indulge in rumour-mongering, support fallacious proxy wars, spread propaganda and cause disaffection and discontent”.

“Based on intelligence inputs and assessment of law and order situation obtained on the ground, law enforcement agencies, while dealing with the present situation, have inter-alia reported about sustained efforts being made by terrorists to infiltrate from across the border, re-activate their cadres and scale up anti-national activities in Kashmir division as well as terrorism-affected areas of Jammu division, by communicating effectively with their operatives within the UT of J-K through VOIP and encrypted mobile communication through various social media applications to coordinate and plan terror acts,” the order said.

“… it is absolutely necessary to do so (restrict access to internet) in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the Security of the State and for maintaining public order,” it said.

Internet services in Jammu and Kashmir have been suspended since August 5, when abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution was announced. The authorities have continued to describe the restrictions as a pre-emptive measure to prevent misuse of data services by “anti-national” elements which has the potential to cause large-scale violence and disturb public order.

Tuesday’s order directed the internet service providers (ISPs) in the Kashmir Valley to provide limited broadband facility to “essential services”, such as hospitals, banks and government offices, and hotels and tour and travel establishments. There is no mention of the services being restored to media organisations or to the general public in the Valley.

“ISPs to provide broadband facility, with Mac-binding, to all the institutions dealing with essential services, hospitals, banks, etc as also government offices, and in order to facilitate tourism, to hotels and tour and travel establishments,” Kabra said in the order.

He asked the ISPs to install necessary firewalls and carry out ”white-listing” of sites that would enable access to government websites and websites dealing with essential services, e-banking, etc.

However, access to all social-media sites has been banned in both Jammu and Kashmir divisions.

“…there shall be complete restriction on social media applications allowing peer to peer communication and virtual private networking applications for the time being,” the order read.

The Principal Secretary, Home Department, also directed the government offices and the institutions being provided internet access to take necessary precautions to prevent its misuse.

“They shall be responsible to prevent any misuse, for which they shall take all the necessary precautions, including appointment of nodal officers, keeping a record of persons/ devices, managing and monitoring day to day usage, changing accessibility credentials on a daily basis and ensure internet availability to only authorised users, etc,” it said.

The order also directed the divisional administration of Kashmir to establish 400 more internet kiosks to facilitate the general public, students, traders for filing GST returns, and tourists – a sign that internet services were unlikely to be restored in the Valley anytime soon.

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