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Telecom privacy violators set to face stiff penalties

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Within days of releasing the draft telecom bill for public comments, the government has received feedback that penal provisions for violation of norms on privacy of users need to be tightened further. These are expected to be incorporated when the final legislation is drafted.
While communications and IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw and his team that drafted the legislation set about seeking to keep reforms as the key pillar in the draft that is proposed to do away with the 140-year-old Indian Telegraphs Act, consultations with other wings of the government suggested that there was need to focus on securing the interests of the average user.
That is why several provisions, such as those related to “Do Not Disturb” have now been brought into the draft bill as the government seeks to arm itself with the required legal backing to act against violators, including through imposition of penalties.
Government sources said the idea is to go for a graded penalty as well as a voluntary undertaking mechanism, which will be modelled on the principles of plea bargain.
Operating under a “light touch regulation” philosophy, the draft telecom bill is likely to incorporate provisions for a voluntary undertaking in case of offences, whereby an entity can seek to take remedial measures or refrain from taking action in a timebound manner. A failure to comply with the plan will attract penalties.
“We have seen that cases keep piling up even if there is a minor violation. This mechanism will give the option of rectifying the mistake. We have also proposed graded penalties as we often see that the highest possible penalty is imposed by officers,” explained a senior officer.
So the nature of the of-fence, its gravity, duration and repetitive nature, among other aspects, will be looked at while imposing the penalty. For instance, a first time violation of the ‘Do Not Disturb’ rules may result in the offender opting for a voluntary undertaking, but a fresh violation may result in a fine of up to Rs 50,000, and can go up to Rs 2 lakh for repeat offenders. “The overarching philosophy is light-touch regulation,” an official explained.
While the idea is to retain continuity, going forward, the department of telecommunications (DoT) and regulator Trai will also see if the terms and conditions, such as the licensing norms, are made attractive so that every operator shifts to the new regime.
While the government is seeking to get platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter to register under the proposed telecom law, some of the aspects to address the concerns on privacy and data will be addressed through the data privacy legislation and the proposed Digital India Bill, which will also be readied in the coming months.
“We want to avoid any overlaps so issues will be dealt with through the three planned laws, while cybersecurity will be through regulations as it needs continuous updation,” an officer explained. The draft bill also comes with certain unique features, including a simpler language.

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