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Government Considers New Committee to Tackle Rising Spam Call Challenges

In India, 66% of people get two to three spam calls every day. At the meeting, the industry representatives pointed out how spammers are now switching from traditional calling to Internet calls, especially using WhatsApp.

We missed this earlier: The government might be forming a committee to draft guidelines for curbing spam calls, based on the suggestions made by industry representatives in a meeting conducted by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs on February 14. This meeting was held to discuss a solution to unsolicited commercial calls (spam calls) and saw participation from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), and telecom companies.

In India, 66% of people get two to three spam calls every day. At the meeting, the industry representatives pointed out how spammers are now switching from traditional calling to Internet calls, especially using WhatsApp which saw a flood of spam calls and messages last May.

Regulatory efforts to curb spam:

Given the scale of the problem, TRAI has been actively taking steps to regulate the spam issue. The first step in this direction was the release of the Telecom Commercial Communication Customer Preference Regulation (TCCCPR), 2018,  a co-regulation created by telecom service providers and legally backed by TRAI. It called for the adoption of distributed ledger technology (DLT) wherein businesses could store their personal message headers and assert their identities.

In 2023, the regulator mandated the use of artificial intelligence (AI) spam filters for calls and SMSs. It also directed telecom companies to deploy AI and Machine Learning (ML) based UCC_Detect system (unsolicited commercial communication, i.e. spam detection system). It also fined Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea for failure to comply with the TCCCPR, 2018 suggesting that it was making attempts to hold companies accountable for spam regulation.

Spam regulation was also featured in the Telecommunication Act, 2023. The act gives the Central Government the power to issue rules for the preparation and maintenance of do-not-disturb (DND) registers (one or more) to ensure that users do not receive spam messages without their prior consent. The government can also formulate a mechanism for users to report malware or any messages that don’t obtain their consent.

Why curbing spam has been so challenging:

Speaking about the use of AI in curbing spam, Nikhil Narendran, a partner at Trilegal law firm, previously told us that telecom companies are incentivized to ensure that a large number of calls and messages are carried out through their network because that’s how they make money. As such, attempts to make telecom companies co-regulators in curbing spam prove to be ineffective.

“We need an independent regulator or an arbitrary to determine whether somebody is making a spam call and ensure that there is some penalty which is determined on a fair and reasonable basis so that connections are denied, or some other disincentives are put on them,” he explained. It remains to be seen whether this issue would be considered in the government’s spam guidelines.

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