New draft telecommunications bill: According to the new draft telecom bill uploaded late on Wednesday, the government has proposed to bring the interception of over-the-top communication services (OTT) such as WhatsApp and Signal under a legal framework.
As per the definitions in the Bill, telecommunication services means services of any description (broadcast services, electronic mail, voice mail, voice, video and data communication services, audiotex services, videotex services, fixed and mobile services, internet and broadband services) including) satellite based communication services.
It includes Internet-based communication services, in-flight and maritime connectivity services, interpersonal communication services, machine-to-machine communication services, over-the-top (OTT) communication services) that are provided to users by telecommunications.
The Government may add any other service which the Central Government may notify as a telecommunication service. It has sought public response on the draft.
Interception will also cover voice and video calls made on such applications, as the government defines messages to contain “data streams or information intended for intelligence or telecommunications”.
New draft telecommunications bill: The bill, if implemented in its current form, would have implications for an industry that is based on the premise of protecting the privacy and security of encrypted messages.
Under section 24 of the draft, the central and state government, or any officer specially authorised in this behalf by the central or a state government can “on the occurrence of any public emergency or in the interest of the public safety” — if it is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient to do so, in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity or security of India, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, or preventing incitement to an offence, for reasons to be recorded in writing, by order — direct that any message or class of messages, to or from any person or class of persons received by any telecommunication services… shall not be transmitted, or shall be intercepted or detained or disclosed to the officer mentioned in such order.
This clause enables the government to intercept messages, calls on platforms such as WhatsApp and Signal, which are encrypted – meaning they are not stored and remain private between users as per company policy.