J&K didn’t lift ban on news, other key sites


Hyderabad: The government of Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday announced a list of 153 websites that residents would at last be able to access. This is meant to be a reprieve for the people who have been forced to live with an internet blockade since August 5, 2019. These “whitelisted” websites include mail, banking, educational and miscellaneous services and importantly, exclude news websites.

However, according to experts, the sites on the list are practically useless. Most modern websites use external libraries to load their content, and none of these websites have been whitelisted.

 

Shashikanth, an IT professional told Deccan Chronicle, that JavaScript libraries and content delivery network (CDN) services (both of which facilitate loading of content) are used by almost all modern websites. “Without access to these external resources, most of these 153 websites will be either unusable or at best, many of their features will be missing,” he said.

Other developers noted that domain-specific whitelisting of websites cannot work since it is not in line with modern web development. The entire internet, they said, is extremely interdependent. Almost all websites use JavaScript libraries of various kinds such as jQuery, VueJS and React. If websites are not allowed to access these resources, they wouldn’t work properly. Salman Qureshi, a web developer from Srinagar who has had to relocate temporarily to Jalandhar, confirmed that only government websites in the whitelist were working properly.

While criticising internet blockades in general, developers said the whitelist indicated the inability of the J&K government and Ministry of Electronics to understand how the internet works. One cybersecurity researcher from the city, wishing to remain anonymous, explained: “If you try to open Gmail through the link mentioned in this list, it will hit a few other websites. The actual login page too loads elements from multiple domains. This means even Gmail will not work properly.”

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He added, “A whitelist would have worked 20 years ago when most websites were hosted on a limited number of servers in one location. It is pretty clear little thought was put into this whitelist. And even less time was spent on considering the feasibility and usability in enforcing it.”

Junaid Nazir, a web developer from Srinagar, echoed this sentiment. Nazir said the whitelist meant nothing to him since the general public has little access to the internet anyway. Speaking to Deccan Chronicle via phone, he said, “There are probably around 150 centres where the public can try to access the internet. The general public still doesn’t have mobile internet.”

He too confirmed that to those who could access them, the whitelisted websites will not work well.

Nazir said his own website development business, which employs 15 people, has just died due to the shutdown. Some of his employees moved to Dehradun to continue operations but Nazir himself has had to stay back in Srinagar for personal reasons. “The government might think they are doing us a favour by allowing us to access a few websites, but we won’t be happy until they open up the internet,” he said.

Even if most websites are blocked, Nazir said, “We would find a way to access what we want. We will simply use a VPN (virtual private network). In 2016 (the government) blocked Facebook. We used it via VPN. But right now, we people couldn’t care less about this whitelist.”

Danish, another Srinagar-based developer who moved to Delhi after the shutdown, had similar thoughts. “The whole region has been disconnected from the world. The government thinks these small moves (like the whitelist) are enough to pacify us. They aren’t. We can’t be forced to stay in the dark forever,” he said.

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