India plans to regulate WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal

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Image by Michele Ursi | Bigstockphoto

India may devise a law to regulate messaging apps like WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal to address security-related concerns. The country’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is of the view that there is a need for lawful interception of these applications as technology has evolved to a point wherein their “misuse can be disastrous for the country.”

The DoT will soon kick off consultations with the ministries of electronics and IT (MeitY) and information and broadcasting, the Economic Times reported. The telecom department will also seek views from the telecom regulator, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).

“Currently, we don’t have a mechanism to control or stop something that is creating havoc on social media. We have to do a post-mortem, where also not much can be done. We should be able to control and analyse real-time, so misinformation or other things can be stopped,'” a government official was quoted as saying by the publication.

Making social media a safer place

The aim of bringing regulation to these apps, he said, is to make social media a “safer place” since misinformation travels faster and becomes uncontrollable, creating law and order problems.

While the telecom department can deal with communication apps that provide services similar to telcos, other social media apps – such as Twitter and Facebook – come under MeitY.

DoT is also evaluating whether to undertake stakeholder consultations independently, given that any move to regulate such apps will have broader implications.

Most industry associations, such as the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), Nasscom and the US-India Business Council, had opposed any regulatory framework for OTTs when TRAI discussed the issue earlier. They believe that the IT Act already regulates apps, and further regulation will stifle innovation.

Past attempts to regulate

Notably, the telecom regulator had previously tried to regulate OTT messaging apps and issued a consultation paper titled Regulatory Framework for OTT Communication Services.

However, it ruled out any need to regulate these apps after receiving comments from all stakeholders in September 2020.

“Any regulatory prescription in haste may leave an adverse impact on the industry as a whole. Accordingly, the authority is of the opinion that market forces may be allowed to respond to the situation without prescribing any regulatory intervention. However, developments shall be monitored, and intervention, as felt necessary, shall be done at an appropriate time,” TRAI had said in its recommendations.

Related article: Telcos urge Indian govt to defer net neutrality and regulate OTT players

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