Amid the ongoing, escalated tension in J&K, a circular has been issued by the District Magistrate of Kupwara, J&K, that mandates the registration of WhatsApp news groups in order to curb the spread of rumours on groups.
It has asked WhatsApp group admins of “social media news agencies” and “WhatsApp news groups” to register with the local administration, in order to prevent untoward incidents in the state.
Once the govt. starts taking action, it is going to be the first state where you will need a registration certificate to have a WhatsApp group. Once registered, the govt. will monitor activities on those groups.
The Additional District Informatics Officer has bee deputed as the in charge of the “District Social Media Centre” for registration of these groups, and to keep vigil on the activities of these WhatsApp news groups and bring any issues to the notice of the district administration.
The circular states that group admins of each group will be responsible for all the posts on their groups and for any irresponsible remarks/deals leading to untoward incidents will be dealt under law. It also forbids government employees who are part of these groups from “making comments/ remarks” about the policies and decisions of the government.
If anyone is found involved in such activities, strict action will be initiated against them as required under rules,
states the circular.
While it states that the group admin will be held responsible for the posts on the group, it has not cleared what happens when the admin quits the group and WhatsApp randomly appoints another admin. It is also not clear as to how the government is planning to “look at” WhatsApp groups. Recently, WhatsApp has rolled out end-to-end encryption to all of its users, which would make it impossible for anyone to snoop in on the conversations.
It seems impractical to monitor such WhatsApp groups in an entire state, which could be millions in numbers. Even if the government somehow does that, the users always have an option to shift to other instant messaging app.
These instances of Government interference have actually been increasing in the country. In times of negative information being spread over social media, many state governments have implemented complete blackout of internet services, which has become a go-to solution for them.
Gujarat had used such practice of shutting down internet service and SMS too in August 2015, incurring over Rs. 7000 crore in loss to banks. The government once again used the same strategy during patidar agitation last week and shut down internet and SMS on Sunday till Tuesday night.
The news of registration for WhatsApp groups and close monitoring of social media activity has taken many by surprise. When people are getting more concerned about privacy and the world is moving towards encryption, how could there be such restrictions on web?