J&K Govt wants to access WhatsApp in the State

By : |April 20, 2016 0

According to recent directives, the Jammu & Kashmir government wants to access every WhatsApp group chat in the state. The state government has sent two different communique asking WhatsApp group admins of “social media news agencies” and “WhatsApp newsgroups” to register with the local administration, in order to prevent untoward incidents in the state. The directives follow an incident that led to the death of four people in a firing by security forces.

“Group Admins of each group will be responsible for all the posts on their groups & for any irresponsible remarks/deals leading to untoward incidents will be dealt under law,” read one circular, signed by the Kupwara District Magistrate’s office. It also forbade government employees who are part of these groups from “making comments/ remarks” about the policies and decisions of the government.

Social media apps have become crucial investigation spots with states (both national and international) dealing with terrorism or violence of any kind.”This is scapegoating by appointing the admin as a whipping boy or girl because authorities wish to find someone to punish for the dissemination of objectionable information,” says Mishi Choudhary, executive director of the Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC).

WhatsApp recently provided for full encryption on its platform, which means that only the intended recipient (person or group) communicating with each other can see the message that is being sent over the messaging service. With end-to-end encryption in place, not even WhatsApp’s employees can read the data that’s sent across its network.

Experts believe that the legality of such a directive is questionable, but even more worrisome is how the government plans to “look at” conversations among citizens on WhatsApp. Chinmayi Arun, Executive Director, Center for Communication Governance, National Law University, Delhi says, “This is impractical and will be very difficult to monitor short of a dystopic system that encourages citizens to spy on each other. Even if WhatsApp is shut down, other applications will take its place.”

With no clarity on how the government purports to monitor conversations, the only feasible way to do it is if the district magistrate or a government official is added to existing WhatsApp groups. Besides, if an admin exits a group, WhatsApp randomly assigns admin status to any one of the group members, according to WhatsApp’s terms of service. “Ergo, merely your presence in a group can implicate you for content posted by others. This shows the lack of understanding of how apps work or law applies to such situations,” adds SFLC’s Choudhary.

However, rumor mongering is also a valid concern, especially in a volatile state of Jammu and Kashmir. “Incitement to violence is a serious concern and WhatsApp needs to start engaging more with policy makers and others who work on human rights. Unlike the other major platforms that do discuss their policies and contemporary problems, WhatsApp seems to be less inclined to engage. I hope that this will change,” says CCG’s Arun.

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