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Elections 2019: Another precautionary Internet Shutdown in Kashmir

Mobile Internet services have been suspended in Kashmir across providers, reports UNI. This was carried out due to the start of polling for the general elections in the Baramullah constituency today. Security measures have been hiked in order to enable a peaceful polling process, including an increase in checkpoints and barricades for checking of vehicles. The constituency has a registered total of 13,08,541 voters.

Kashmir has seen the highest number of Internet Shutdowns of any Indian state, 150, as per the Internet Shutdown tracker maintained by SFLC. The previous shutdown was two days ago, in Kishtwar district. Baramullah is situated close to Kupwara, where last month an executive order required admins of Whatsapp groups to register with the Deputy Commissioner.

At our discussion on Internet Shutdowns in 2017, Akash Hassan of 101reporters.com, apart from the impact of Internet Shutdowns and whether they actually help, talked about how Internet speeds are manipulated in order to control the spread of information and narratives. To listen to him speak along with other journalists from areas affected by Internet Shutdowns in India on how shutdowns affect public life, click here.

Impact of Indian Regulation of Shutdowns

Internet Shutdowns in India are governed by a set of rules published by the DoT in 2017, replacing the even more arbitrary procedure of enforcement through orders issued by a District Magistrate. The current rules still enable the imposition of an Internet Shutdown through executive orders, however these order may only be issued by a Secretary to the central or state government, and are subject to review by a central government committee.

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It is questionable whether the shutdowns do a lot to help the political situation in the region. Apart from offline mobilisation, groups wishing to demonstrate publicly are also making use of VPN technologies to circumvent Internet Shutdowns. Rather than enabling violence, communication online is often used to disseminate information and also send out messages asking for and providing assistance.

This is also brought out in its adverse affect on armed forces personnel. Communication between those on duty is hampered by the removal of a fast and secure messaging-based communication channel. Online services generally employ higher encryption standards than legacy communication channels used in India, and the loss of access to these applications renders communication between the officials more vulnerable to compromise.

Read our coverage of Internet Shutdowns in our #NAMA discussions here:

 

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