India introduces new Telecom Bill to replace 138 yr old laws, critics point out privacy concerns

The Indian government introduced a comprehensive Telecommunications Bill in the Lok Sabha today, featuring provisions allowing temporary government control of telecom services in emergencies, redefining Over-The-Top (OTT) services, allowing access to messages and proposing a non-auction route for satellite spectrum allocation.

The Telecommunications Bill, 2023, grants the Centre the authority to assume temporary possession of telecommunication services or networks during public emergencies or for public safety. This includes taking control of any telecommunication service or network from an authorised entity when deemed necessary by the central or state government. This is in line with similar emergency broadcast service employed by governments globally.

Communications Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw presented the bill amid opposition demands for a statement from Home Minister Amit Shah on the Parliament security breach issue. Opposition member Ritesh Pandey raised concerns over the bill being introduced as a Money Bill, exempting it from Rajya Sabha approval, and requested parliamentary committee scrutiny due to privacy concerns.

The bill broadens the definition of telecommunication to include internet-based messaging and calling apps like WhatsApp, Telegram, Google Meet, bringing them under IT rules rather than telecom laws. It reinforces user protection measures, ensuring the interception or detention of messages does not apply to press messages intended for publication unless prohibited under specific circumstances.

A shift in spectrum allocation methods is proposed, with certain satellite-based services being assigned spectrum through administrative processes, contrary to the demands of domestic telecom players like Jio and Vodafone Idea for auction-only allocation.


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