Want Internet in Kashmir? Agree to Give Up Privacy | OZY


By Junaid Kathju 29 November 2019

If they want internet access, Kashmiri businesses will have to let security forces check every website they access.Source Yawar Nazir/ Getty

Why you should care

No one should have to give up their privacy in exchange for the internet.

Companies in Kashmir can finally restore their internet connections, which have been suspended for four months. But it will come at a cost. They’ll have to give the government a signed bond saying that internet usage will be restricted to “business purposes.” They must also promise to share all “contents” and “infrastructure” that they watch or use on the internet when asked by “security agencies.”

The bond, a copy of which this reporter has seen, consists of six points, including that no encrypted file containing any sort of videos or photos will be uploaded. Other points state that “for the allowed IP, there will be no social networking, proxies, VPNs and Wi-Fi” and “that all the USB ports will be disabled on the network.” Government officials say companies will be held responsible “for any kind of breach and misuse of internet.”

It’s the latest chapter in Kashmir’s struggle for that most basic of 21st-century commodities: the internet. On Aug. 5, just hours before the Narendra Modi government revoked Jammu and Kashmir state’s special status and split it into two union territories, authorities had suspended all communication lines across the valley to “prevent any law-and-order situation.”

All connections are being monitored.

Baseer Khan, divisional commissioner, Kashmir

Even though postpaid mobile services were restored in Kashmir on Oct. 12, internet services for common people continue to remain suspended. However, over the past week, at least 100 hotels, guesthouses, travel agencies and some government offices have had their internet restored.

“The process of restoration of internet services has been started from government departments, followed by the hospitality sector,” says an official, on condition of anonymity. Government departments have had to sign a similar bond, with the head of the department to be held responsible in case of any misuse. “Whoever was allowed to use these services was asked to sign a bond taking responsibility that there will be no misuse of the facility,” the official adds. “Some of the connections of bureaucrats have also been restored.”

The clearance to restore internet connections comes from the office of the inspector general of police. Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir Baseer Khan, while acknowledging that internet has been restored in some places, also acknowledges that “all connections are being monitored.

Meanwhile, travel and hospitality sector businesses in a recent meeting had categorically said they won’t engage in any promotional campaigns unless internet services are fully restored. “We are ready to sign a bond that we will use the internet facility only for sending tour itineraries and financial transactions,” they said in a statement. “Government should ease restrictions on the internet, or else the business community, especially tourism sector, is doomed.”

The Modi government in mid-October lifted a travel ban it had enforced on tourists visiting Kashmir. But hospitality sector executives say they can’t communicate effectively with customers without the internet.