India has proposed to regulate internet-based communications services and require platforms to obtain a license to operate in the world’s second largest mobile market.
The Department of Telecommunications’ new proposal, called the Draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022, seeks to consolidate and update three old rules – Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933, and The Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Protection) Act , 1950.
The 40-page draft proposes giving the government the ability to intercept messages transmitted over internet-based communications services in the event of “any public emergency or in the interest of public safety.” It also provides the government with immunity from any lawsuit.
“No action, prosecution, or other judicial proceeding shall be instituted against the central, state, Union territory government or any other authority under this Act, or any person acting on their behalf, as to anything, whether in good faith or shall be carried out in accordance with this Act or any rule, regulation or order issued under it,” the draft reads.
The draft also requires that individuals using these licensed communications apps “should not falsely state, withhold material information, or impersonate any person”.
Telecom operators in the country have long called for regulation of apps like WhatsApp and Telegram “to create a level playing field in the South Asian market.” But the proliferation of WhatsApp and other chat services in India and beyond killed the telecom industry’s expensive SMS tariffs and did not harm consumers.
The Department for Telecoms said it was reviewing similar laws in Australia, Singapore, Japan, the European Union, the UK and the US while preparing its draft.
The proposed guidelines, for which the ministry will solicit public comment by October 20, also attempt to take broader steps to curb spam. India is one of the nations hardest hit by spam calls and texts, a fact that has allowed call monitoring apps like Truecaller to penetrate deep into the nation.
The draft states that “any message offering, advertising, or promoting any goods, services, interest in real estate, business opportunity, employment opportunity, or investment opportunity” may be sent only with the prior consent of users. The draft also proposes a mechanism to allow users to report spam messages they receive and recommends one or more “do not disturb” registers to record users’ consent to receive certain commercial messages.
The draft notably comes just over a month after India completed its $19 billion 5G spectrum. The country is expected to get 5G networks later this year.