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Over 60 digital rights groups call for withdrawal of Telecom Bill

“The Bill in its current form poses a grave threat to fundamental rights, democracy, and the internet as we know it, and must be withdrawn and altered in order to remove these flaws,” the letter, which includes signatories like the Signal Foundation and Mozilla, said.

More than 60 digital rights organisations including those that back popular tech platforms like Signal and the Firefox browser have written to Telecom Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, urging him to withdraw the telecom Bill which was passed by Rajya Sabha Thursday.

“The Bill imperils encryption, a crucial tool for privacy and free expression; amplifies unchecked powers of the government to impose internet shutdowns; and enhances surveillance without independent oversight,” they said in the letter.

“The Bill in its current form poses a grave threat to fundamental rights, democracy, and the internet as we know it, and must be withdrawn and altered in order to remove these flaws,” the letter, which includes signatories like the Signal Foundation and Mozilla, said.

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They said that in empowering the government to notify standards and conformity assessment measures on “encryption and data processing in telecommunication” without any limitations, the Bill creates “uncertainties around the ability of service providers to offer strong encryption, and develop privacy-respecting innovations”.

The Bill replaces the Indian Telegraph Act (1885), the Wireless Telegraphy Act (1933), and the Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act (1950), which the government sees as colonial-era archaic laws that need reforms, given that the telecom sector has changed significantly in the last few years.

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It has been passed in both Houses of Parliament and will become law after receiving assent from the President.

The proposed law attempts to bring in a slew of structural changes to current regulatory mechanisms in the sector, ranging from simplification of the licensing regime, clarity on spectrum assignment, and a stringent requirement of user verification, among other things.

First published on: 22-12-2023 at 04:10 IST
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