New Delhi: Giving fake documents to get a mobile SIM card or misrepresenting identity on over-the-top (OTT) communication platforms like WhatsApp, Signal or Telegram may lead to imprisonment of one year or a fine of up to Rs 50,000 for a telecom consumer.
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has put in these provisions in the recently released draft Telecommunications Bill to protect users from online financial frauds and other illegal activities.
There have been numerous instances of financial frauds committed by cyber criminals, who usually take SIM cards on fake documents and hide their real identity on OTT apps to make calls.
As per an official explainer of the Bill, every telecom user should know who is calling. “This will help in preventing cyber frauds done using telecom services. Therefore, provisions related to identity have been included in the Bill at relevant places,” said the explanatory note. Sub-section 7 under Section 4 of the draft Bill requires telecom users to declare their identity. Misrepresentation of identity by a person availing of telecommunication services can lead to imprisonment which may go up to one year, levy of a fine of up to Rs 50,000, or the suspension of telecommunication services; or a combination of these. This has been defined as a cognisable offense, meaning a police officer can arrest without a warrant and start a probe without a court’s permission.
The government has been seriously looking into the online financial frauds issue and has mandated that going forward, even the OTT platforms must complete know-your-customer (KYC) formalities of the users.
“The new Bill will tackle the situation of cyber fraud head-on and address it upfront, in not just one, but multiple dimensions. The obligation of KYC, ensuring duties on the users, including various modes of calls, in the draft telecom Bill, and I strongly believe that with the implementation of this Bill, we can make a significant reduction in cyber frauds,” communications minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said recently while explaining the Bill.
He said a person who is receiving a call should know who is making the call. It includes all kinds of calls, be it a normal voice call, WhatsApp call, Facetime or any other OTT call. “Distinction between a voice and data call has disappeared. KYC needs to be done for all the platforms and the services have to come under the same law,” the minister said. “With that thought process, OTTs have been brought under the definition of telecom.”
The DoT has already sent a reference to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, asking it to recommend a mechanism that will allow a caller’s name to flash on the screen when a call comes. The name would be as per the KYC record of the telecom subscriber.
Such a mechanism would allow telecom users to know the name of the caller even if it is not saved in their phone book. At present, users can know the caller’s identity by using apps like Truecaller, but the limitation with such apps is that the data is crowdsourced, so it may not be 100% authentic — something which can be guaranteed by KYC data.