Will India Spy on Internet Calls?

A government panel in India recently recommended that domestic internet calls should be regulated.  That would give the government regulatory power over services like Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber.  How exactly would the government determine when citizens were making calls over the internet?  That’s one of the issues to be debated in the Monsoon Session of Parliament.

India internet calling

It looks like regulators are trying to figure out how to protect telco revenues.  In order to regulate domestic internet calls officials in India would need to use deep packet inspection to spy on users.  At times they would also need encryption keys to make the determination.  That would leave millions of internet users online privacy at risk.  Hopefully the government will think better of passing a law that would discriminate against internet users.

The CPI national secretary D Raja said that the issue will be discussed in the upcoming session of parliament which starts on July 21.  Raja went on to say that “In principle, we are for ‘net neutrality’. Such recommendation (like the panel’s) may affect users. These are all technical issues and we need to examine those in the interest of customers. We definitely will take up the issue”.  You can expect to hear more about the proposed internet call regulations in the weeks to come.

Why would India want to regulate domestic internet calls?  Telecom companies charge more than over-the-top (OTT) services like WhatsApp and Skype.  That means customers are turning to the internet calling alternatives to save money.  The quality is in line with domestic telecom’s so customers are choosing to use the internet to make their calls.  The government regulating internet calls would definitely discriminate against internet users who may not be able to afford the calls otherwise.

Internet users in India should take the proposed regulation very seriously.  The privacy implications are far reaching.  There are a number of countries that go so far as to block VoIP traffic all together.  It’s not possible to make internet calls from countries like Belize, Brazil, Caribbean, China, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Korea, Mexico, and several more countries without using a VPN.  Regulating internet calls could be the first step toward blocking them all together.  Not to mention the privacy implications of the Indian government tracking internet calling and determining which online traffic is being used for calls.

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