Kashmir police have filed a case against people using VPN, social media
Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) police filed a complaint against people using VPNs (Virtual Private Network) and social media on February 17.
The government of India had issued an order on January 14 banning all social media sites in the region and last month, authorities in Kashmir opened up Internet functions partially in the region with limited 2G postpaid and broadband access to whitelisted sites. This follows nearly six months of total Internet blackout.
Authorities extended Internet access to 2G prepaid users later and increased the number of permitted sites to 301 and 1,485 over the next few weeks. Social media sites, however, were still not a part of this list.
The police have filed the FIR under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act that intends to curb the spread of rumours and misinformation. In the complaint, J&K Inspector General of Police, Vijay Kumar, made an appeal to the general public to "not access social media through VPN".
J&K police files FIR under UA (P) and IT act against individuals for defying government orders and misusing social media. IGP Kashmir,Vijay Kumar, makes an "appeal" to general public not to use social media through VPN's.#Kashmir pic.twitter.com/ovaTb3YB3D— Azaan Javaid (@AzaanJavaid) February 17, 2020
The Internet Freedom Foundation, which is an Indian digital liberties organization, pointed out that "there is no publicly available blocking order prohibiting the use of VPN apps under India's IT Act. Article 66-A(b) which relates to restriction of online speech was "struck down" in 2015 by the Supreme Court of India.
With reports emerging that internet users may be prosecuted for using social media through VPNs in Kashmir, it is important to note that there is no publicly available blocking order prohibiting VPNs under Section 69A, IT Act. (1/3)— Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) (@internetfreedom) February 18, 2020
Mishi Choudhary, Technology Lawyer and Managing Partner at Mishi Choudhary and Associates, said the government should allow the internet to work like any democratic society.
"It's been 198 days since Internet has been shut in Kashmir. Despite a Supreme Court judgment, all that the authorities have done is to allow for a few whitelisted websites and 2G connections keeping the Internet Shutdown in effect the same. This clampdown on Free Speech and expression is bound to force people to get their voices out in different ways. Instead of using state power to book users as criminals for speaking, we should allow the Internet to work like any democratic society. Any alleged rumors can be addressed by putting out accurate and more information through the same social media platforms. Content based restrictions on speech can only be allowed within the restrictions established by the Constitution and not in an ad hoc manner," she said.
Scroll had reported earlier in February that army personnel were allegedly checking phones to see if owners had any VPN apps or not.