New Delhi: A digital rights advocacy group has raised the alarm about vague oversight rules and penalties against consumers under the expanded definition of telecom services in the telecom bill.
The Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) warned that the bill, in its current form, would increase the regulatory burden on communications apps and could drive service providers such as Telegram and Signal out of India.
The bill, which is currently in the public debate, seeks to expand the definition of telecommunications services to include OTT communication players or applications. As a result, OTT communications service providers such as WhatsApp and Signal that implement end-to-end encryption may be required to intercept, store or disclose any message or class of messages to an officer specified in a surveillance request/order. IFF said while commenting on the bill.
“Encryption is also breached by clauses 4(7) and 4(8) of the Telecoms Bill 2022, which require licensed entities to ‘unequivocally identify’ all their users and make that identity available to all recipients of messages sent by such users requires him to do. “, – he added.
It has been reported that these services will now have to obtain a special license to operate in India. “This is a worrisome development as the mandate to issue standards is unclear and could clearly undermine the technical protections available to users or even prevent smaller online service providers like Telegram or Signal from offering services in India,” the IFF said. .
However, telecom minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said OTT apps will only be regulated with “light-touch regulations” aimed at curbing cyber frauds perpetrated through these services.
The IFF, in a separate technology policy publication, said there was no clear justification for the need to expand the definition of telecommunications services in the draft.
The Telecommunications Bill consolidates laws governing the telecommunications sector and aims to repeal the colonial-era acts used to regulate the sector to date. The deadline for comments on the project has been extended until November 10. The final draft is expected to be submitted to the parliament in the middle of next year.
The IFF said the consultation process during the drafting of the bill was flawed. According to information, the telecommunications department received 500 pages of comments on the initial consultation document. But those responses have not been made public, a clear breach of the agency’s 2014 pre-legislative consultation policy.
He also said the government had missed an opportunity to introduce regulatory reform provisions into the bill. The draft seeks to bring some safeguards through the “public security” and “public emergency” requirements to exercise control, but the IT Ministry will continue to overstep the mark by exercising control under the current IT Act.
“This promotes a complete lack of accountability and often results in allegations of using surveillance for political purposes,” the IFF said in its comments opposing the bill, adding that the grounds for surveillance need to be narrowed and sufficiently secured. judicial review.
IFF argued that the bill would increase the regulatory burden on telecom providers, including OTT applications. Every service included in the expanded definition will now have to obtain a special license to operate in India, they said, adding that the mandate to issue standards was vague and “could clearly undermine the technical protections available to users”.
The organization also highlighted the provisions to impose a fine of up to 1 million rupees on users using unauthorized telecom services and to penalize employees of companies operating without a license.
“The grounds – ‘reason to believe’ – can be abused and put the user at a disadvantage as it places the burden of proving any service provider’s ignorance of their license status on them,” the IFF said. .
He also added that the draft aims to reduce the powers of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) while concentrating more power under the central government, proposing to remove the need to seek recommendations from the regulator before providing services. license.
Minister Vaishnaw said the bill will not take away TRAI’s powers under Section 11 of the TRAI Act, which seeks to provide checks and balances between the telecom department and TRAI through a consultative process, ET reported on October 20.