The Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) has noted that the Draft Indian Telecommunication Bill 2022, in its current shape, would increase the regulatory burden on communication apps and might lead to service providers exiting the country. The entity has called the bill as vague surveillance of rules and penalties on consumers under an expanded definition of telecom services.

The draft bill, currently up for public consultation, seeks to expand the definition of telecom services to include over-the-top (OTT) communications players, or applications. As a result, IFF asserts that the OTT communication service providers such as WhatsApp and Signal, which implement end-to-end encryption, may now be required to intercept, detain or disclose any message or class of messages to the officer specified in the surveillance request/order.

As per IFF, encryption has also been undermined by clauses 4(7) and 4(8) of the draft bill, which require licensed entities to unequivocally identify all its users, and make such identity available to all recipients of messages sent by such users. These services will now have to obtain a specific licence to operate in India, which as per IFF is a worrying development as the power to issue standards is vague and can clearly cause damage to technical protections available to users, or even lead to smaller online service providers such as Telegram or Signal from not offering services in India.

Meanwhile, IFF, in a separate tech policy publication, has also noted that the draft bill lacked an explicit reasoning on the need to expand the definition of telecom services. It argued that the draft bill would increase the regulatory burden on telecom service providers, including OTT apps.