The Centre has recently informed the Supreme Court that it is exploring a framework to deal with “privacy concerns of citizens” for regulating “Over-The-Top” (OTT) messaging services like WhatsApp, Facebook, Skype, WeChat and Google Talk. At present, a similar regulation exists for all telecom operators.
Globally, network companies like Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, Chat On, Snapchat, Instagram, Kik, Google and Talk offer app-based products for messaging and calling, yet do not come under the purview of any regulations, neither do they compensate the telecom-service provider for using their infrastructure.
The Centre has said that there is no regulatory mechanism to monitor the OTTs. In an affidavit, the Centre has pointed out,
“Department of Telecommunication (DoT) is seized of the issue and shall finalize policy direction on various aspects of regulatory and licensing framework for OTT services and net neutrality after taking into account the TRAI recommendations on the subject.”
The document was passed on to a bench headed by Chief Justice J S Khehar, which is hearing a petition against WhatsApp’s new policy under which the data of a user can be shared with Facebook. As the petitioners – Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi – have challenged the policy on the ground that it violates a user’s privacy and amounts to surveillance, the bench referred the petition to a Constitution bench for April 18 for final disposal.
According to a TOI report, senior advocates Kapil Sibal and K K Venugopal, who appeared on behalf of WhatsApp and other OTT service providers, said: “There was no issue of privacy involved in the controversy raised by the petitioner as it is a matter of contract between the user and OTT service provider.”
While many people support and encourage such censorship on the pretext of protecting their children and communities, others see them as tools to deprive people of their own right to access information freely. Regulation on OTTs will bring the long-standing debate on net neutrality, internet privacy and censorship to the forefront. Several attempts to censor internet materials have largely been futile.
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