(This article is authored by Alar)
The Centre has proposed bringing Google Duo, Zoom, and WhatsApp, which are owned by Meta, under the purview of a telecom licence, as stated in the draught of the Indian Telecommunication Bill 2022, in an effort to tighten its control over video communication and calling apps. The companies, it was added, will be subject to a number of requirements, including the requirement to identify their users when prompted by other users. The draft bill was put up on social media by IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw.
"For provision of Telecommunication Services and Telecommunication Networks, an entity shall have to obtain a license," says the draft. Also the centre allows public feedback on this proposal, as the last date for public comment on the draft is set for October 20.
If the mandate is passed into law, Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp will be required to identify users of their services using a verifiable method of identification. The action is anticipated to spark new howls of protest from these players, who have previously resisted similar actions in the name of privacy and freedom of speech.
A key part of India's expanding telecommunications network, OTTs may now be required to operate under a specific licence, according to the proposed legislation, which seeks to replace the current Indian Telegraph Act of 1885. Additionally, it suggests fee refunds in the event that a telecom or internet service provider offers to revoke the licence. Over-the-top service providers, or OTTs, include modern satellite and internet-based communication firms, social media platforms, and other businesses that rely on internet networks.
The draught bill expands the definition of telecommunication services to include all types of services, including broadcasting, electronic mail, voice mail, voice, video, and data communication, audiotex, and videotex, fixed and mobile services, internet and broadband, satellite-based communication, internet-based communication, and in-flight and maritime connectivity.
The licence to operate as a provider of telecommunications services is proposed to be granted by the Centre solely at its discretion. Interestingly, the draught suggests that a licenced entity will be required to "unequivocally identify the person to whom it provides services, through a verifiable mode of identification as may be prescribed."