After five months of total internet suspension in the Indian territories under federal administration of Jammu and Kashmir, only internet access has been partially restored after the intervention of the Indian Supreme Court on January 10, which declared the measure “unconstitutional”. “Free internet access is a fundamental right,” said N. V. Ramana, one of the magistrates who issued that ruling.
This is the suspension of the Internet that has had the longest duration in a democratic country, and experts consider it a possible indication of the construction of the “Great Indian Firewall”. The term “large firewall” refers to the set of technical and legislative measures deployed by the Government of China to control internet information, which includes blocking access to foreign services and preventing politically sensitive content from reaching the national network.
While the evolution of the Chinese firewall has become a sophisticated infrastructure of censorship, that of India still needs to be structured in a complex and large-scale way. The Indian strategy to control information online consists of measures such as totally blocking access to web sites and services, closing platforms and forcing some social media content to be removed for unclear reasons.
301 websites allowed
According to internetshutdowns.in, a project that tracks the various internet suspensions in India created by the legal NGO Legal Center for Software Freedom, the suspension that began on August 4, 2019 has been the longest in the country. He partially rose in Kargil on December 27, 2019, while the rest of the state was still suspended.
In addition to regular internet services, fixed telephone lines and mobile communication services were also blocked. Although the “verified users” of the Kashmir Valley were still operating 2G services on January 25, 2020, with access to only 301 websites especially allowed (At the beginning there were 153, but the list was extended to 301), social networks, virtual private networks and many other sites remain blocked.
The administration of J&K passed an order on 25th January ordering for the restoration of 2G internet for around 300 whitelisted websites. We spoke to @iamtanzeelkhan about this and this is what he has to say about the current situation of Internet in #Kashmir #LetTheNetWork pic.twitter.com/L9zSjVfvWL
– InternetShutdowns.in (@NetShutdowns) January 31, 2020
The Government of Jammu and Kashmir approved on January 25 a rule that ordered the reestablishment of the 2G internet to give access to some 300 expressly permitted websites. We discuss this with @iamtanzeelkhan and this is his opinion on the current internet situation in Kashmir. Let the network work.
Internetshutdowns.in tweeted again on February 4, 2020 that some of the 301 sites allowed were not yet accessible.
An order was released on 25th January 2020 by the administration of J&K allowing internet access on 2G for 301 whitelisted websites. We asked a user to access some whitelisted websites on 2G.
This is what was found. #LetTheNetWork #KeepItOn #JammuAndKashmir pic.twitter.com/s7V2NqaHBd
– InternetShutdowns.in (@NetShutdowns) February 4, 2020
On January 25, 2020, the Government of Jammu and Kashmir issues an order authorizing internet access via 2G for the 301 sites on a list of expressly permitted websites. We request a user to access some of the sites listed by 2G. We discovered this. Let the network work. Keep it on. Jammu and Kashmir.
Independent investigations indicate many facets of the white list, such as the violation of the net neutrality rules of India, political nepotism and potential surveillance by favoring the unencrypted JioChat – application of the Reliance Indian conglomerate, supposedly favored by the government of Modi, according to media reports – while chat services are banned based on end-to-end encryption, such as WhatsApp.
“Great Firewall” Indian
The Logical Indian reported on January 30, 2020 that Kashmir broadband services will only be restored after the creation of an alleged social media firewall. It is currently not very clear whether these restrictions will be implemented only in Kashmir or also in other regions of India.
Nazir Ahmad Joo, general manager of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), a mobile and public broadband operator, told a news platform that his company is working on the creation of “a firewall”:
We have called a team of technical experts from Noida and Banglore who are working over creating a firewall to thwart any attempt by the consumers to reach to the social media applications (..)
We have convened a technical team of experts from Noida and Bangalore who work on the creation of a firewall to thwart any attempt by consumers to access social media applications …
Through a order dated January 13, 2020, the Government called on companies that provide internet services as mobile operators, to install the “necessary firewalls” and “exclude from the firewall” the sites on the authorized list.
Just wrote this: The beginnings of the great firewall of India? Https: //t.co/bSs0L4L4xw
– Nikhil Pahwa, https://mstdn.social/@nixxin (@nixxin) January 15, 2020
Is it the beginning of the Great Indian Firewall?
The unplanned consequence of the Supreme Court order for internet blockades in Kashmir – where they restrict the rules of responsibility for internet blockades, and said that some essential websites must be accessible, is that the creation of the Great Firewall has increased Indian: filters that control what users can and cannot access online.
I just wrote this: Is it the beginning of the great Indian firewall?
Meanwhile, the partial suspension continues in Kashmir despite the decision taken by the Supreme Court on January 10. Ironically, the order of the Interior Department of the Government of Jammu and Kashmir mentioned above was applied one day after the court ruling.
The suspension was carried out immediately after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a right-wing political party that holds the majority in the National Democratic Alliance coalition that currently governs the country, prompted the repeal of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. This article gave the state of Jammu and Kashmir a special condition and remarkable autonomy in relation to citizens of the rest of the country. Among many other restrictions, citizens who were not from Jammu and Kashmir were prohibited from acquiring property in that state. This repeal means that what had once been a state (Jammu and Kashmir) has been divided into two territories of the Union (administrative regions under federal government control): Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
Ieshan Wani, journalist and editor of Global Voices, tweeted on February 5.
Partial showdown in #Srinagar as today marks 6 months after Parliament nullified Article370 of the Constitution & bifurcated erstwhile state into 2 union territories.Since August 5, the political party leaders including three former CMs continue to remain under detention.#Kashmir pic.twitter.com/Q8HGPy8awh
– Ieshan Wani (@Ieshan_W) February 5, 2020
Partial suspension of the Internet in Srinagar, because today three months ago the Parliament annulled article 370 of the Constitution and divides what was a state into two territories of the Union. Since August 5, political leaders, including three main former ministers (N. of T. a chief minister is the head of government of an Indian state), remain in detention.
Nikhil Pahwa, editor of the Medianama digital platform, shows that this partial suspension of the Internet paves the way for the legitimization of the network blocking infrastructure, secret internet blocks not subject to supervision, making the act of suspending the Internet less clear by allowing some websites, by allowing officials to monitor user activity and by allowing net neutrality to be violated among other human and digital rights.
To enable more tight control, the Indian government is also considering adopting a law that would force social media companies to censor content that it considers illegal.
The Information Technology Regulation (Intermediate Guidelines (amendment)) of 2018, still in the draft phase, details that Indian officials can ask social media companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok to remove the content they consider illegal, even for reasons as imprecise as defamation, obscenity, invasion of intimacy and hate.
Many examples indicate that the current regime has manipulated imprecise laws and imposed sanctions to silence criticism of the Government. Two recent examples of this would be the arrests of the mother and the teacher of an 11-year-old girl for her participation in a theatrical performance that criticized the new amendment of the citizenship law, and also the possible demand that an agent of indian police against Twitter to remove content broadcast by a user who shows that policeman supposedly watching pornography on the internet.
India is sinking: 11-year-old student's mother, Nazbunnisa & School head-teacher, Fareeda Begum, have been arrested by police on January 30 on charges of sedition for staging a play which voiced dissent towards Modi & his discriminatory citizenship law. https://t.co/z3CpdIcAEj
– Ashok Swain (@ashoswai) February 4, 2020
‘I want you to come back ': Bidar student about his mother's arrest for a work of criticism.
After three police interrogations, Ayesha *, 11, has been living with her neighbor because her mother, who is a widow, is in prison for a play that criticized.
India sinks: the mother of an 11-year-old student, Nazbunnisa, and her teacher, Fareeda Begum, have been arrested by the police on January 30 accused of sedition for making a theatrical performance expressing their disagreement with (Prime Minister Narendra ) Modi and with its discriminating citizenship law
Read the special coverage of Global Voices on the situation in Kashmir.