Cyber cafes in Sopore sweating under security heat

Jibran Nazir/ Akeel Rashid

Cyber cafe
Cyber cafe

The North Kashmir’s Sopore has an unusual conundrum – a place with no cyber cafes to access the internet. Cyber cafes, which offer public Internet access by selling Internet time has been shut by the owners in the town fearing security problems.

Locals allege that the authorities have deliberately caused unnecessary inconvenience to the people by imposing blanket ban on the cyber cafes.

“The closing of internet cafes affected our business, but we can afford that, rather than being questioned and summoned by the authorities,” said one of the café owners in the town.

“I had started an internet café at sopore in 2007 but the police and other security agencies used to come here for questioning very frequently. I found it unsafe and I had to wind up,” said Umar Malik who used to own a cyber café in the town.

He said a number of unemployed youths had gone in for the cyber business and accordingly hired shops and commercial spaces to install computers. He said 90 per cent of the cyber cafe owners had taken loan on high interest for purchasing computers.

Police on the other hand say they have not told anyone to shut the cyber cafes.

But it is because of security reasons that they ask the café owners to keep the record of the visitors.

“There is procedural way for everything we do and we have not forcibly shut any cyber café in the town,’’ said a police official in the town. “We have asked them to maintain a log in the local cyber cafes in order to keep a record of visitors. Their photographs, details, copy of their identity cards have to be submitted while access to their systems.”

Local students also complained about the unavailability of cyber cafes for internet access in the town.

“We gather a lot of information from cyber cafes, going to these places is a part of life in the information era,” said Musaib Akhtar, a student. “Many kids go there because they are not very skillful with computers and need peer help. Also not every child has a computer at home.”

Another person who used to run a cyber café at sopore between 2009 to 2011, says he ran a cyber café at Sopore for which he and his brother were picked up by police many a times. “And, it was really embarrassing,” he said, wishing anonymity. “Inspite of presenting all the clarification and running a cyber café in a procedural way, I was being tailed by police.”

He said it is “impossible” for a cafe owner to control the actions of his customers.

“All I could do was note down the names and addresses of my visitors, maintain a record of their identity cards and list the times of their arrival and departure from the café,” he said.

 “Police had also directed us to install CCTVs, which may cost us Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh,” he said adding the business is already tilting downward in view of the easy access to the technology and nobody would be ready to spend such a huge amount.

Pertinently, as per the ministry’s guidelines, Cyber Cafe owners are required to maintain a log register recording information about every individual visiting the cyber cafe. Those who refuse to give any form of identity are not to be allowed inside the Cyber Café. Beside this Cyber Cafe has to maintain a date-wise log register of all the cyber cafe visitors.

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