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Operators call for bringing OTTs under same rules for data protection and security

November 14, 2017

Operators including Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular and Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited (RJIL), have argued for equally and uniformly bringing in over-the-top (OTT) apps like Whatsapp, Viber and others, under the ambit of data protection rules that hold for operators.

The carriers also propagated the need for measures such as mandatory local-hosting of data, which would prevent movement of personal data of customers outside Indian borders. Internet-based companies however argued against adopting such measures as such moves could threaten open diversity of the internet and could be reciprocated by other countries on Indian companies overseas.

In its submission to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) discussion paper on privacy, security and ownership of data in the telecom sector, RJIL opined that the regulatory framework to ensure data privacy, data security and data ownership is well defined for the telecom service providers. It added that there was an imminent need to bring the OTT players and other unlicensed service providers collecting consumer data under the data privacy principles umbrella.

Leading carriers advocated that carriers did not need any further mandate as data privacy and protection norms embedded in the licences were robust. Backed by the industry body Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), they propagated same service same rules for stakeholders including OTT communications providers who offer voice telephony or messaging services that are similar to that of telecom firms, and ride on operator networks.

Bharti Airtel applied the same argument to content providers, device manufacturers, browsers, operating system providers that also function in the internet ecosystem, that deal with same personal data but are governed by different rules and regulations. It added that in the telecom sector, customer privacy has three significant sources of vulnerabilities which include device, network and content providers and any law that limits its scope to telecom service providers alone will not be able to holistically address the issue of protection and privacy of personal data.

Seeking a regulatory parity, Idea stated that it is only appropriate that OTT players be urgently brought under a suitable framework that imposes same obligations applicable to telecom firms in respect of data security, protection, privacy and confidentiality. Idea has also underscored the need for an overarching framework that comprehensively addresses the definition of personal data and its protection mechanism, and goes beyond the operators to include all entities in the digital ecosystem involved in collection, processing and usage of personal data.

However, proponents of data protection and consumer privacy, such as the Internet Freedom Foundation, batted for a comprehensive legislation in the matter, even as it called out present data protection requirements as inadequate and completely deficient given the large amounts of data transmitted through mobile phones.



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