The mandate, if it becomes a law, will require Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp to identify the user of its services through a verifiable mode of identification. The move is expected to result in fresh howls of protest by these players, who have so far resisted such moves in the name of privacy and freedom of speech.
The identity of the person sending a message using a platform should be available to the person receiving it. In the past, entities such as WhatsApp have argued that it is not possible to identify all the persons in the chain as technology does not allow it to track the messages, given encryption tech used by it.
The proposed legislation, which seeks to replace the existing Indian Telegraph Act of 1885, has identified OTTs — or over-the-top service providers (who ride the internet networks) such as the social media giants and new age satellite and internet-based communication companies — as an important element of India’s burgeoning telecommunication network, which may henceforth be required to operate under a designated licence.
Broadening the definition of telecommunication services to factor in the current times, the draft bill lists them as “service of any description (including broadcasting services, electronic mail, voice mail, voice, video and data communication services, audiotex services, videotex services, fixed and mobile services, internet and broadband services, satellite-based communication services, internet-based communication services, in-flight and maritime connectivity services, interpersonal communications services, machine-to-machine communication services, over-the-top (OTT) communication services) which is made available to users by telecommunication”.
The draft bill proposes the Centre will have the sole discretion to grant a licence to an entity to operate as a telecommunication services provider. Interestingly, the draft has suggested that a licensed entity will be mandated to “unequivocally identify the person to whom it provides services, through a verifiable mode of identification as may be prescribed.”