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Govt moots law to access encrypted messages on apps : The Tribune India

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Tribune News Service

New Delhi, September 22

Proposing important changes to the legal framework governing telecommunication in the country, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has introduced a new draft Bill that will change the way internet-based messaging apps like WhatsApp or Signal are used by people.

To also cover voice, video calls

  • Apps like WhatsApp, Signal to come under legal framework allowing interception of messages
  • At present, messages over these apps are ‘encrypted’
  • Govt to have power to stop transmission of any message or intercept it
  • Interception to also cover voice, video calls made over such apps

The draft Bill can be read online at the DoT website. The government seeks to consolidate the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933, and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950.

The draft Bill proposes a provision to waive fee and penalties of telecom and internet service providers.

Importantly for users, apps like WhatsApp, Signal and other over-the-top communication services will soon come under a legal framework allowing interception of messages, the Centre said citing the new draft telecommunications Bill. At present, messages over these apps are “encrypted”.

The draft Bill defines ‘telecommunication services’ to include broadcasting services, electronic mail, voice mail, voice, video and data communication services, audiotex services, videotex services, fixed and mobile services, internet and broadband services and satellite-based communication services.

The interception will also cover voice and video calls made over such applications. Under Section 24 of the draft, the Central and state governments will have the power to stop transmission of any message or intercept it if it threatens national security or relations with other countries.

The explanatory note to the Bill defines the reasons for the new Bill saying India needs a legal framework attuned to the realities of the 21st century.

The Bill will also push for a slew of reforms, including a separate set of rules to deal with insolvency for stressed telecom assets, easier merger and acquisition norms, and empower the government to waive dues of financially stressed telcos.

“The existing regulatory framework for the telecommunication sector is based on the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885. The nature of telecommunication, its usage and technologies have undergone a massive change since the era of the telegraph. The world stopped using telegraph in 2013,” the explanatory note said.

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