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  • Voltaire Staff

Meta worried Indian govt could apply telecom law to it

Meta Platforms CEO Mark Zuckerberg

India Meta Policy Head has expressed his worries that the the recently passed telecom bill may apply to OTT services, including Meta's own internet apps like Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram, at a later time.

The executive expressed his apprehensions in an email to colleagues following the introduction of the Telecommunications Bill, 2023 in Parliament earlier this week.

Though the current version of the legislation, which empowers the government to intercept messages, set encryption standards, and control telecom networks, no longer explicitly mentions 'OTT,' experts are concerned about the broad definitions of 'telecommunication services' and 'messages' in the bill.

Shivnath Thukral, Director and Head of India Public Policy at Meta, expressed the same worries in an email to colleagues on December 18 -- the day the bill was presented in the Lok Sabha.

As reported by Moneycontrol, the email stated,  "The revised Bill text is now public. In a positive move, all explicit references to OTTs have been removed from the Bill... However, some ambiguity remains -- as the definitions of 'telecommunications services,' 'telecommunications identifier,' and 'messages' could be interpreted to implicitly include OTT services, even without explicit mention."

Thukral said,  "Arguably, even after the removal of OTTs from these definitions, the government could have enough discretion to designate OTTs as a telecommunications service and bring them under an authorization regime if it chooses to do so through delegated legislation at a future date."

He said he had a conversation with 'the Minister,' who conveyed to him that the government does not intend to regulate OTTs under telecom law. The email does not specify which minister the Meta executive spoke with.

Some experts argue that online communication platforms like WhatsApp, Gmail, and Signal, which deal with the transmission, emission, or reception of messages over optical or electromagnetic systems, could fall under the regulatory structure of the bill.

The Telecommunications Bill, 2023, got the green light from the Lok Sabha, marking a big change in how India deals with the telecom.

The bill says the government can step in for a bit to control telecom services when national security is on the line, especially during emergencies.


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