Industry body COAI has cautioned against blocking of mobile apps, saying it would not only impinge on freedom of speech and expression of users, but also hit routine day-to-day communications, commercial activity, and business interests. The mobile association has written back to the Telecom Department, which had sought the industry’s views on technical measures which can be adopted for blocking mobile apps like Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, etc in situations where national security and public order are under threat.
In its three-page reply to the Telecom Department, the Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI) has cited technical constraints, flagged risks of over-blocking, and cautioned that blocking must be targeted “only at content or account level” to “minimise impact on innocent users”.
“Blocking of mobile applications as a whole to prohibit circulation of certain content would likely impinge the principles of freedoms of speech, expression and information by blocking millions of other users who have not shared or originated any unlawful content,” COAI said. Taking such an approach will be “disproportionate” and will harm the constitutional rights of users at large, it had argued.
“Only specific content or users responsible for circulating unlawful content must be blocked instead of the entire mobile application blocking,” said COAI, whose members include telecom service providers like Airtel, Vodafone, Idea, and Reliance Jio. It has further said that any disruptions or full blocking of mobile apps, particularly those which have billions of users across the world, will “put to halt all ordinary day-to-day communications, correspondence and commerce activities.
The COAI has argued that as several emerging businesses have starting to evolve on social media and communications applications, blocking would adversely impact the commercial interests and cause significant economic harm to innocent stakeholders, COAI said in its letter dated August 6. Based on a reference from the IT Ministry, the Department of Telecom (DoT) has invited views from the industry on technical measures that can be adopted to block mobile apps like Whastapp, Facebook, Telegram, etc. The DoT, however, has denied to have any intension of blocking any apps, per se.
The move comes amid rising concerns over circulation of false information and rumours on messaging platform WhatsApp, that have in several instances incited mob-fury. The Government has taken a stern view of false news doing the rounds on social media platforms, and asked WhatsApp to take urgent measures to curb the circulation of such messages and identify its originators.