It isn’t new for social media platforms to be in the crosshairs of the Indian government, as visuals of raids on Twitter’s office in the country brought to the fore. Messenger app WhatsApp, while facing privacy concerns expressed by people, is also contesting the Indian state’s traceability clause, which requires it to locate the first originator of information for the authorities. Amidst these battles, the government has proposed a telecom bill, which will bring internet calling and messaging apps under a licensing regime.
What does the ministry say?
According to the IT Ministry, the Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022, will bring stability and will protect users, after it was put out in public for their feedback this week. The bill, set to replace the Telegraph Act 1885, which has been in effect since the colonial-era, requires online communication platforms such WhatsApp, Google Duo and Zoom, to get a license for their services. The ministry claims that the bill has licensing provisions which are in accordance with global standards, and will allow the government to intervene and protect consumer rights.
An extension of license raj?
It is meant to extend already applicable terms and conditions, to particular cases such as data calls, which are similar to voice calls now. But it also raises concern of bringing the license raj into the digital communication space, instead of doing away with it.
At the same time, the bill also proposes waiver of entry fees, license fees, registration fees and even penalties among other additional charges. Press messages of correspondents accredited to central or state governments, intended for publication in India will not be intercepted under the bill.
Can the government read your messages?
But at the same time, the government can intercept messages if it’s considered important for the public safety, sovereignty, integrity, and security of India. The state can also intercept messages which may incite people for an offense.