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You will need a license to create a WhatsApp group in Kashmir

by Prasad Krishna last modified Apr 21, 2016 02:34 AM
The internet rights activists have criticised the move stating it as unconstitutional.

The article was published by Governance Now on April 19, 2016. Pranesh Prakash tweeted on this.


Moving beyond internet ban, Kashmir’s Kupwara district issued a notice asking all admins of WhatsApp news groups to register their groups with the district authority within ten days.

With this move, the authorities are taking power in their hands to monitor WhatsApp news groups owned by private individuals. However, internet rights activists criticised it saying the move is unconstitutional as it breaches freedom of speech.

The circular is issued under the subject of ‘registering of WhatsApp news group and restrictions for spreading rumours thereof’.  The district magistrate said that any spread of information by these WhatsApp news groups, “leading to untoward incidents will be dealt under the law”.

You may need a license in Kashmir to run a WhatsApp group

WhatsApp

The valley witnessed five-day internet shutdown following the Handwara firing incident.  Internet ban is a common phenomenon in Kashmir.

“For how long will the government decide whether we can communicate with each other or not? Actually, the authorities do not want us to spread the truth about the army’s atrocities far and wide,” said a resident of Handwara as quoted in Kashmir Reader.

Earlier, parts of Haryan and Gujarat also witnessed internet ban during Jat and Patidar agitation, respectively.

Blocking all internet access is clearly an unnecessary and disproportionate measure that cannot be countenanced as a ‘reasonable restriction’ on freedom of expression and the right to seek and receive information, which is an integral part of the freedom of expression,” said Pranesh Prakash.

For instance, he adds, a riot-affected woman seeking to find out the address of the nearest hospital cannot do so on her phone. “Instead of blocking access to the internet, the government should seek to quell rumours by using social networks to spread the truth, and by using social networks to warn potential rioters of the consequences,” he said.

Former Mumbai police commissioner Rakesh Maria used WhatsApp to counter rumours spread after circulation of a fake photo in January 2015.

“The way in which the ban is imposed is unreasonable. Problem is in the method that is being used in absence of guidelines, defining circumstances under which they can impose a restriction on internet sites,” says Arun Kumar, head of cyber initiatives at Observer Research Foundation (ORF).

If government formulates these rules or guidelines it will set a threshold for state or central authorities, which will define the urgency of imposing ban on internet services.

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