Centre for Internet & Society

Stakeholders vouching for a cheap and open Internet have flagged concerns over privacy and regulatory hurdles.

The article by Anita Babu was published in the Business Standard on November 20, 2016. Pranesh Prakash was quoted.

With the releasing its consultation paper on public this week, stakeholders vouching for a cheap and open Internet have flagged concerns over privacy and regulatory hurdles.

The has pointed out that the proposed regulations might lead to invasion of privacy and interfere with the freedom of hotspot providers to operate freely.

“While we welcome Trai’s vision that increasing the number of public hotspots could be the way to bringing the majority of Indians online, the proposals turn out to be regressive and poorly thought out,” said Aravind Ravi Sulekha, co-founder of the Internet Freedom Foundation.

The regulator in its consultation paper issued earlier this week proposed hotspot providers would have to register with the government and users could access hotspots only after paying using a service tied to their number. It wants to utilise Aadhaar, (e-KYC) and the (UPI) to build a standard authentication mechanism for access to public in India. While the aim of is to increase the number of hotspots in India, proponents of free Internet fear these proposed rules might have a contrary effect.

Hotspot providers will have to incur costs on account of hardware installations for one-time password verification in addition to the costs of sending out the passwords. This might discourage entrepreneurs.

“This system of verification makes it harder for entrepreneurs to set up hotspots and for people to access them. It is impossible for broadband to proliferate in any significant way if insists on applying ineffective and cumbersome regulations on those who wish to set up their own hotspots,” said in its comments to Trai’s consultation paper.

The proposals have excluded individuals who do not have an account from accessing public Wi-Fi. “This not only brings concerns of costs and exclusion but also privacy, given the constitutionality of the project, and its government-mandated use, is pending adjudication in the Supreme Court,” the foundation pointed out.

The proposals also come at the cost of anonymity. The foundation, cofounded by the crusaders of last year’s SaveTheInternet campaign, trashed the argument that imposing eKYC norms would help in countering terrorism and other crimes. “This prohibition on anonymous communication is a violation of Indians’ freedom of expression… making a call at a PCO, sending a telegram and posting a letter have always been possible without showing ID — even though criminals and terrorists occasionally abused these services… KYC measures are ineffective in preventing crime and terrorism, as tools like VPNs, TOR, and proxies can easily mask the identity of an Internet user,” it stated.

“The solution proposed by is a classic example of centralism and over-regulation. It turns out that is unclear about the problem to be solved,” said Pranesh Prakash, policy director at the Centre for Internet and Society. He added that the new proposals had also failed to address the limitations on foreigners or tourists in India.

Current regulations prevent foreigners without a local mobile number from accessing public connections. While had identified the problem, it failed to come up with a plausible solution.