New Delhi: Cyber law experts have questioned the validity of the Kishtwar district magistrate’s move to crack down on WhatsApp news groups in Jammu and Kashmir.

On Friday, Angrez Singh Rana, district magistrate, had issued an order mandating admins of all WhatsApp groups to register with his office within the next 10 days, failing which they would be liable for action under the Information Technology Act, Ranbir Penal Code, the cyber crime law and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. A copy of the order has been reviewed by Mint.

Administrators will also be required to include only known people in their groups as well as furnish details of group members. While the order espouses the importance of freedom of expression on social media, it also says that “it comes with a responsibility and reasonable restrictions".

While senior government officials said the order was a small step in the right direction, cybersecurity experts questioned the validity of the order.

“The cyber domain is huge and cannot be easily regulated. Service providers also need to cooperate. There are people who are misusing the freedom of social media and only good legislation and good regulation can help bring them under the law," said a senior J&K state government official, seeking anonymity.

Senior officials of the Union home ministry also added that given the sensitive nature of the state and the extent of false propaganda material doing the rounds on WhatsApp , this step would act as a deterrent — even if a temporary one.

Experts, however, said the order was bad in law and would have to explore the domain of internet jurisdiction. “Under section 21W of the IT Act, the government has the power to regulate all intermediaries. WhatsApp admins are considered intermediaries and they must do their due diligence. But how can you certify that a WhatsApp group falls within the jurisdiction of the DM? The order does not ensure how penalisation will take place. So there maybe no major response to this order at all," said Pawan Duggal, a cyber law expert at the Supreme Court.

“The source of power assumed by the DM is unclear and would have to clarify its source—right now it seems to be more in the realm of a general unspecified power being assumed under the pretext of maintaining law and order. The WhatsApp groups by the very nature of technology are almost ungovernable in so far as the original postings are concerned. Most platform have policies which require the government and other law enforcement authorities to specifically issue takedown notices. And these notices are complied with. I am sure the DM does not want to be flooded with applications for registration of alumni groups, housing society groups etc (which could also be sharing news)," said senior advocate Sanjay Hegde.

Aditi Singh contributed to this story.

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