India’s parliament has passed a controversial bill to modernize its telecommunications and connectivity ahead of the country’s general election in spring 2024.
The new bill, voted through on Thursday, December 21, would replace original legislation dating back as early as 1885 and affect over 1.17 billion telephone connections and 881 million internet subscribers. The aim is reportedly to embrace more modern services like satellite broadband but the details of the legislation have raised some privacy concerns among digital rights groups.
Specifically, the Telecommunications Bill grants the government the power to take control of telecom networks and monitor traffic data in the interest of national security, as well as retains the right for Indian security services to intercept communications. It would also favor companies like Musk’s Starlink and Amazon’s Kuiper by allowing spectrum allocation for satellite-based services without auctioning.
This has earlier been resisted in India, due to the influence of India-based telecoms company Jio, attempting to take on global giants but lacking the resources to do so. Now, however, the Indian government seems keen to attract foreign investments through the new legislation.
When does the Telecommunications Bill come into effect?
Although now voted through the Indian parliament, the Telecommunications Bill is not yet cemented in law. It must now gain the Indian President’s approval to become an official act.
Digital rights activists and privacy advocacy groups have raised concerns over the ambiguity related to the regulation and absence of public consultations for the bill’s final version, which could also delay the bill coming into effect.
Digital rights organization Access Now has also called for the bill’s withdrawal and the creation of a new draft through consultation, citing the fact that the bill allegedly undermines end-to-end encryption, possibly endangering the privacy of individuals.