The Jammu and Kashmir Police have registered a first information report under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act against social media users who used VPNs to circumvent the internet ban. Virtual Private Networks, or VPN, allow users to mask their location and browse the internet more securely.
“Taking serious note of misuse of social media, the Cyber Police Station Kashmir Zone Srinagar has registered a case FIR against various social media users who defied the government orders and misused the social media platforms,” the police said in a statement.
“There have been continuous reports of misuse of social media sites by miscreants to propagate the secessionist ideology and to promote unlawful activities,” the statement added. “Social media has remained a favorite tool which largely provides anonymity to the user and also gives wide reach.”
The FIR was filed “while taking cognizance of social media posts by the miscreants by use of different VPNs, which are propagating rumors with regard to the current security scenario of the Kashmir valley, propagating secessionist ideology and glorifying terror acts/ terrorists”, the police added. They claimed that a lot of “incriminating material” was seized in this connection.
The FIR was filed under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Information Technology Act, besides UAPA.
On February 14, the Jammu and Kashmir government had issued an order banning all social media sites to curb the propagation of “false information/ rumours” that would affect “social instability”. The FIR came a day after a video of ailing Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Geelani was uploaded on social media, according to The Indian Express.
Last week, the Jammu and Kashmir administration whitelisted 1,485 websites but extended the ban on high speed 3G and 4G internet services till February 24. In an order, the authorities said that “internet speed shall be restricted to 2G only”.
The Centre cut off internet services in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh on August 5 just before imposing a security lockdown. Mobile 2G internet services were restored in a limited way for both prepaid and postpaid connections after over five months on January 25. However, this access was provided to only 301 “whitelisted” websites.
The administration had also noted it had received information that social media sites were being used through virtual private networks to carry out “terror activities”, and to upload “provocative material” aimed at disturbing peace. Authorities cited these activities to justify the temporary suspension of mobile data services.
Scroll.in had reported that VPN applications had piqued the interest of people in Kashmir. However, in South Kashmir that had led to tension between civilians and the Army. Residents of several Kulgam villages claimed that security personnel checked phones of young people for VPN apps. They were allegedly thrashed if the applications were found on the phones.