Tattle's Take on the Indian Telecom Bill

Published on Mon Oct 31 2022Yash Budhwar

The newly intended Telecom Bill was circulated for stakeholder comments last month. You can check out the draft Bill here

The Indian Telegraph Act, of 1885, the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, of 1933, and The Telegraph Wire (Unlawful Possession) Act, of 1950 are all intended to be replaced by the draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, of 2022, which was released by the DoT under the Ministry of Communication.

The inclusion of OTT services like WhatsApp, Signal, and other similar services within the scope of the Bill is one of the main criticisms of it. In one fell swoop, this equalises the licencing requirements for telecom providers and OTTs, i.e. the Unified Access Service License.

This licence comes with a number of restrictions, including the need to keep track of users' "Know Your Customer" information, abide by particular encryption rules, and grant access to networks and equipment to the government.

More details about the Licence are here

The Bill adds clauses allowing for internet shutdowns to be commanded by the government. In accordance with the Bill, any officer authorised for this purpose or upon "the occurrence of any public emergency" may order and/or result in the termination of any internet service and the seizure of any telecommunications service or network. Additionally, there are no restrictions on how long such directives are valid under the Bill.

This disregards earlier legal precedents in the area. For instance, safety measures suggested by the Supreme Court in rulings like Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India (2020) which included selectively prohibiting services (like messaging services, so that other users are not hindered), utilising a clear system for imposing internet shutdowns that adhere to the concept of proportionality, and prescribing orders for a limited length of time. Read more about the case here.

From a misinformation standpoint, knowing who has sent a message doesn't halt the spread of misinformation. There is plenty of misinformation to go around even on platforms such as this one, where the source of content is known. Furthermore, internet shutdowns can create information voids. In absence of information, rumors abound, leading to further instability. In all of this user privacy is lost, but what is gained is unclear.

Our submission to the Ministry can be viewed here

More resources on understanding the Bill and its issues and our perspectives on MisInfo are here -

Text and illustrations on the website is licensed under Creative Commons 4.0 License. The code is licensed under GPL. For data, please look at respective licenses.