Wired broadband internet services in the Kashmir Valley will be restored in full and access to social media websites will be permitted from this evening, a senior BSNL official said today. However, mobile internet services will continue to be restricted, with only low-speed 2G networks operational and high-speed 4G networks still blocked.
An order issued by Shaleen Kabra, Principal Secretary (Home) of the Jammu and Kashmir government, also said unfettered access to social media platforms and other websites on wired broadband lines, and 2G networks was effective only till March 17 unless extended before then.
Restoration of broadband services comes with a rider - the enforcement of Mac Binding, or forcing a computer to work a specified IP address for security reasons.
This news comes around seven months after an extensive communications blackout imposed by the centre following its contentious decision on Article 370 in August last year.
Iltija Mufti, daughter of former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who is one of three senior opposition leaders detained by the government since August, tweeted after the ban on social media websites was lifted, saying the J&K administration had "finally realised the futility of of a ban".
"Seems like J&K admin finally realised futility of ban on social media since Kashmiris circumvented it through VPNs (virtual private network). Simply became a cat & mouse chase where Kashmiris outwitted state apparatus i.e., Big Brother," Ms Mufti tweeted.
Seems like J&K admin finally realised futility of ban on SM since Kashmiris circumvented it through VPNs. Simply became a cat & mouse chase where Kashmiris outwitted state apparatus i.e.Big Brother— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) March 4, 2020
Last month Mehbooba Mufti was charged - with being a "daddy's girl" - under the Public Safety Act.
In January the government had partially restored broadband access for certain institutions in the Valley.
At that time social media websites had been blocked; only access to 1,674 government-approved websites, which included those dealing with "essential services such as e-banking", had been allowed.
Institutions given access were warned they would be held responsible for any misuse and were urged to take necessary precautions, including the appointment of nodal officers and recording all usage.
The Kashmir Valley has been without unconditional broadband access since August - part of a number of restrictions imposed by the government as "precautionary measures" after it ended Jammu and Kashmir's special status under Article 370 and bifurcated it into two union territories.
The decision to partially restore internet came after the Supreme Court, on January 10, ordered a review of all restrictive orders still in place. This, the court said at the time, should be done in a week.
"Suspension of free movement, internet and basic freedoms cannot be an arbitrary exercise of power," said the Supreme Court, asserting that "mere expression of dissent or disagreement against a government decision cannot be reason for Internet suspension."
The court also said "such suspension can only be for a limited time and is subject to judicial review".
A three-judge bench led by Justice NV Ramana also criticised the repeated use of Section 144, a British-era rule to ban large gatherings, in J&K. "It can't be used as a tool to oppress difference of opinion," the court said, adding the government must ensure such orders can be challenged legally.
The centre had justified the restrictions and said that due to the preventive steps, not a single life was lost and not a single bullet was fired.
Kashmir has been through the longest internet shutdown in any democracy. Kashmir's chamber of commerce has said the shutdown has cost over $2.6 billion and over 1 lakh people have lost their jobs.
With input from PTI