Home / Industry / Telecom /  Telcos seek level-playing field with web messaging services

NEW DELHI : Interception of encrypted messages sent via messaging apps is set to become another flashpoint between telcos and backers of online messaging services.

Telcos have demanded that over-the-top (OTT) messaging services be regulated, and the government levy a licence fee on OTT communication apps on par with telcos and that carriers should be compensated for all OTT data being consumed on their networks. Telcos have said that national security conditions, including enabling lawful interception of OTT communication app systems, should be imposed to bring parity between the two types of service providers.

“Given the country’s security situation, the same requirements (of interception) for similar services for the same subscriber base should be given. If the government feels that the security situation has improved and the requirements are not needed anymore, remove them for us (telcos) as well. But if they’re needed for us, then they should be for them as well, irrespective of how the services are being given, free or charged," said S.P. Kochhar, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which represents carriers operating in India.

The group also supports introducing KYC or know-your-customer norms for OTT players, offering messaging, emails, and voice and video calling on national security grounds. Presently, telcos are mandated to adhere to KYC norms set by the government.

However, privacy rights activists have argued that interception would create back doors or exceptional access for government agencies into messaging services and have opposed regulation of such platforms.

Compliance with interception requirements for platforms such as WhatsApp and Signal would mean weakening security, bypassing encryption entirely by getting access to content before or after the encryption process through methods such as client-side scanning or storing a copy of every message sent, or simply not offering fully encrypted services at all, the Internet Society said in its submissions to the telecom department.

“The negative consequences of forcing platforms to weaken security afforded to users by strong encryption would be detrimental to the safety, security, privacy and livelihood of users, businesses, and governments worldwide. It would also result in severe financial losses due to erosion of trust in secure, private communications," said Neeti Biyani, policy and advocacy manager at the Internet Society.

Asking every Internet-based service and platform to obtain a licence will impact user accessibility and potentially cause disruption of services, resulting in significant economic losses and a fractured business environment in India, the organization added.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gulveen Aulakh

Gulveen Aulakh is Senior Assistant Editor at Mint, serving dual roles covering the disinvestment landscape out of New Delhi, and the telecom & IT sectors as part of the corporate bureau. She had been tracking several government ministries for the last ten years in her previous stint at The Economic Times. An IIM Calcutta alumnus, Gulveen is fluent in French, a keen learner of new languages and avid foodie.
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