“The (telecoms) bill threatens the open, globally connected, secure and trustworthy internet (in) several ways,” the nonprofit Internet Society said in its report on the bill. of Indian Telecommunications Act, 2022. She criticized the government’s provisions for a broad licensing framework, broad definitions and identity verification requirements in the bill.
We find that the provisions of the bill undermine the essential properties of the Internet as well as the enablers of an open and trustworthy Internet. This places unnecessary barriers and burdens on businesses and users, and harms user privacy. – Internet Company
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Here are some major problems with the telecommunications bill that the Internet Society pointed out in its report:
- Expanded definitions: The most significant impact of the bill is in greatly expanded legal definitions, according to the Internet Society. The bill expands the definition of “telecommunications services”, which, by interpretation, could include broadcasting services such as Tata Sky, email such as Gmail and Yahoo, video communication services such as Skype, internet and broadband services such as Excitel, internet-based communication services such as WhatsApp, Gmail, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, machine-to-machine services such as smart cars, smart TVs and smart watches, over-the-top services such as Instagram, Twitter and more. “The inclusion of potentially all available communication systems, whether using spectrum or cable, or whether Internet-based, has a significant impact on the open, global, and interoperable Internet.”
- Excessive licensing requirements: Clause 3 of the bill grants the government the exclusive privilege to provide telecommunications services, as well as the power to exercise its privilege by licensing entities providing telecommunications services. “So every entity under a ‘telecommunications service’ including Google Meet, Signal, Gmail, Instagram, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc. will need to obtain a license from the Government of India to be able to continue providing services in India.”
- Confidentiality at risk: The Telecommunications Bill states that entities must “unequivocally identify the person to whom they are providing services, by such verifiable mode of identification as may be prescribed”. These provisions take a person’s right to remain anonymous, which would have a negative impact on the fight against cyberfraud, because people’s data will be “more likely to be stolen, fraud will be easier to carry out, blackmail and other crimes will be easier, simply because the data will be tied to people’s identities.
- Encryption: Clause 24(2) empowers government at Union and State level to block the transmission of messages, or to intercept or disclose them in certain cases, such as when the government deems it necessary in the interests of the country’s sovereignty. To comply with these requirements, end-to-end encryption platforms will need to weaken security by providing a back door or exceptional access to end-to-end encrypted content in order to provide government access.
- Internet shutdowns: Through the Telecommunications Bill, the Indian government is “cementing” its powers to suspend internet services. “The Supreme Court of India, hearing Anuradha Bhasin v Union of India (2020), also expressed dissatisfaction with frequent internet shutdowns and felt that internet shutdowns should only be ordered when absolutely necessary and only after performing balance tests as a restrictive step. Additionally, in January 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to access the Internet is a fundamental right under Article 19 of the Constitution”.
How the Telecom Bill Affects Realizing the Internet’s Full Potential
What the internet needs to exist:
The Internet Way of Networking (IWN) describes critical properties that together “are what the Internet needs to exist and function for everyone.” These properties are: an accessible infrastructure with a common protocol, a layered architecture of interoperable and reusable building blocks, decentralized management and distributed routing, a common global identification system, and a technology-neutral general-purpose network. . The Internet Society report assesses the impact of the telecommunications bill on two IWN properties. Here is a brief about them:
- An accessible infrastructure for a common protocol: This basically means that you don’t need permission from a central authority to connect to the internet. “There is no international policy on who can connect or what they have to pay; these factors are largely determined by the market, not by centralized authority. »
- The Telecommunications Bill, by expanding the definition of “telecommunications services” and requiring every telecommunications service to seek a license to continue operating in the country, fundamentally undermines this critical property of the Internet.
- Schedule 3 of the bill provides “a penalty for providing telecommunications services or establishing a telecommunications network without obtaining a license – imprisonment for up to one year, or a fine up to INR 5 million or both. Additionally, a person or entity may be fined up to INR 100,000 for using an unlicensed telecommunications network, infrastructure or network either knowingly or with reason to believe that it is not allowed. It is not possible for users from different backgrounds to know the license status of each service provider.
A technology-neutral general-purpose network: The Internet is designed to be a general-purpose network and not optimized for voice, particular usage patterns, or particular traffic characteristics. “The Internet is completely agnostic as to the type of content passing through it, guaranteeing neither quality nor connectivity, while providing enough of both to provide a base layer for information services, commerce, communications, entertainment , etc.”
- The network layer of the Internet is where network connections are made, allowing different devices to connect to each other. This network layer is independent of the data transmitted between different networks. “In other words, this layer of the Internet does not and should not have the ability to evaluate or filter data.” Contrary to this, the bill allows the Union and state or union territory governments to intercept, block, withhold and disclose messages under certain circumstances.
- Additionally, “it will force networks to invest in expensive data and content filtering mechanisms, delay data transmission, and make interoperability nearly impossible.”
What the Internet needs to thrive:
- Easy and unrestricted access: It is easy for network operators and users to become part of the Internet. Network operators can add to the infrastructure of the internet without “unnecessary regulatory and commercial barriers”. And affordable infrastructure allows users to connect to the Internet with minimal hurdles.
- “This implies that there are no unnecessary obstacles to connecting and creating services on top of the Internet infrastructure.”
- “The Telecommunications Bill contradicts this principle via its licensing mandates, Know-Your-Customer (KYC) records and interception.”
- “The bill’s provisions for internet shutdowns without the required checks and balances also impinge on unrestricted internet access.”
- “The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) encourages voluntary agreements between telecommunications service providers and Internet service providers to foster business cooperation. The licensing provisions under the bill stand in stark contrast to the international practices envisaged at the ITU”.
- Unlimited use and deployment of Internet technologies: The technologies used to connect and use the Internet do not require authorization from a third party. The “Internet infrastructure is available as a resource for anyone who wishes to use it responsibly and fairly”. Mandating the interception of messages during end-to-end encrypted communication “goes against the unlimited use and deployment of e2ee technology. With the traceability provision contemplated under Rule 4(2) of the IT Rules, 2021 being challenged in the Delhi High Court, the overall warrant under Section 24 of the Bill is unwarranted”.
Unlimited accessibility: “Once a resource has been made available in some way by its owner, there is no blocking of the use and access to this resource by third parties.”
“Internet shutdowns remain an overreaction that often only masks – rather than solves – a perceived problem, and can lead to significant collateral damage. We believe Internet shutdowns harm societies, economies, and the global Internet infrastructure.
- Capacity available: No one expects the capacity of the internet to be infinite, but there is enough capacity to meet user demands.
“While the scope of use of the Telecommunications Development Fund has been expanded to further increase the availability of Internet resources, the bill has missed the opportunity to foster collaboration among authorities in the Union, the state and district for the maintenance of existing telecommunications infrastructure Twenty years after its introduction, about 50% of the Universal Service Obligation Fund remains unused Despite the availability of funds, there is a digital divide between areas rural and urban.
According to the 2021 National Family Health Survey, 72.5% of urban men and 51.8% of urban women used the Internet, compared to 48.7% of rural men and 24.6% of rural women.
Internet Society recommendations on the telecommunications bill:
- “Withdraw the Telecommunications Bill, 2022, and start the consultation process again, in accordance with the pre-legislative consultation policy.”
- “Narrow the scope of overly broad definitions like “telecommunications service” to include only companies and entities that use spectrum for their operations. Exclude Internet-based services and applications from the scope of a “telecommunications service”.
- “Remove KYC requirements, as this will lead to digital exclusion of disadvantaged sections of society and raise privacy and security concerns for users.”
- “Withdraw the message interception warrant provided for in paragraph 24(2)(a) of the bill.”
- “Remove the provision granting the government the power to order the internet to be shut down.”
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