Indian telecom operators such as Reliance Jio and fintech startup Paytm have reportedly recommended lawful interception of messages on internet applications and services. The companies claimed that the step would help keeping tabs on criminal, anti-national, and anti-social activities.
The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which represent big telecom players such as Bharti Airtel, Vodafone-Idea, and Reliance Jio, has also requested that OTT players be included under the same licensing regime as telecom companies.
The companies came up with these suggestions in their consultation paper submitted to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) for regulation of over-the-top (OTT) communication service providers such as WhatsApp. The messaging app, which is owned by social media giant Facebook, has 200 Mn users in India.
TRAI Consultation Paper: An Overview
For the uninitiated, in November 2018, TRAI had released a consultation paper on ‘Regulatory Framework for Over The Top (OTT) Communication Services’ to analyse and discuss whether apps offering free voice, messaging, and video call services were affecting the traditional revenue stream of operators and whether they should be brought under a licensing regime.
The consultation paper was initially floated in March 2015 to understand the effects of apps offering free voice, messaging, and video calling services via the internet on telecom operators.
TRAI had also earlier reduced the scope of regulation for the proposed framework for over-the-top applications (OTT) like WhatsApp, Skype, Netflix, and Hotstar, among others.
OTT Players Vs Industry Bodies
According to reports, Reliance Jio stated that legal interception and data privacy is a “license requirement for TSPs (telecom service providers)”, adding that these should also be made applicable for the OTT players.
However, NASSCOM and the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) have voiced their opinion against the move, stating that no additional regulations should be extended to OTT companies as there are enough directives they have to follow under the existing IT Act.
They also added that any more compliance burden may not only make the entry of new OTT players difficult, but can also hurt the existing companies.
The IAMAI also added that the Telegraph Act already permits lawful interception of all data traffic by licensed TSPs and ISPs, which is happening at international landing stations, adding that, thus, additional intervention from the regulator is not required.
Further, Paytm said that the Indian authorities should have complete access to Indian data in order to improve national security and supervisory and regulatory control.
Is The Timing Correct?
This move comes at a time when the Indian government has been standing firm on its decision of data localisation in order to keep user data safe from data breaches.
Earlier, in April 2018, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had directed all companies operating in India to store user data locally in Indian servers only.
In regard to this ruling, the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) recently said that WhatsApp is yet to formally provide a timeline for complying with the RBI’s data localisation ruling.