Centre prepares draft bill that aims to replace Telegraph act

Updated on Sep 22, 2022 07:28 AM IST

The draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022, covers not just conventional phone calls and text messages, but also over-the-top (OTT) applications, which will include services such as WhatsApp.

The draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022, covers not just conventional phone calls and text messages, but also over-the-top applications, which will include services such as WhatsApp.
The draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022, covers not just conventional phone calls and text messages, but also over-the-top applications, which will include services such as WhatsApp.
ByDeeksha Bhardwaj, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

The Union government late on Wednesday uploaded a new draft of the telecommunications bill, a law that is meant to replace the colonial era Telegraph act of 1885, which has hitherto been the main law regulating telecommunications in the country.

In key changes, the draft introduces a new definition as to what constitutes telecommunication -- “Telecommunication means a transmission, emission or reception of any messages, by wire, radio, optical or other electro-magnetic systems, whether or not such messages have been subjected to rearrangement, computation or other processes by any means in the course of their transmission, emission or reception” – and bakes in powers for the government to order internet shutdowns or intercept communications.

The draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022, covers not just conventional phone calls and text messages, but also over-the-top (OTT) applications, which will include services such as WhatsApp.

The bill has been opened for public feedback. Hitherto, the powers for the government to intercept messages as part of its legal surveillance powers were drawn from rules framed under the IT Act and that for internet shutdowns via rules framed under the Telegraph Act.

Experts said the draft law ignores protections around privacy as ordered by the Supreme Court in its 2017 Puttaswamy judgment. According Apar Gupta, trustee of the tech policy think-tank Internet Freedom Foundation, to overcome the colonial moorings of the telegraph act, the new telecom bill should reflect constitutional developments. “It is disappointing that the chapter on public safety and national security ignores Supreme Court judgements such as on the fundamental right to privacy even the recommendations of IT Standing Committee’s recommendations on internet shutdowns,” he said.

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