The government has continued to crackdown on app/online based taxi services in India. According to reports, the Department of Telecom (DoT) has asked the Internet Service Providers to block websites of Uber, Ola and TaxiForSure in Delhi. The latest move comes after the Delhi transport department sought the Centre to block sites of these services for not having necessary licences.
According to reports, these service providers need to be registered with the state transport department as per Section 30 of the Central Motor Vehicle Act. A government committee had recommended blocking of the apps after requests from the Delhi government. It’s notable these services had been running despite wide criticism. “All the internet service licences are accordingly directed to immediately block the access to the URLs,” Times of India quotes the DoT order as saying. Confirming the development, a ministry official is quoted as saying: “We have responded saying that there is no provision in MV Act to ban such service. We have said that such operators need to get themselves registered with state transport departments and follow regulations. We cannot make any comment on the provisions and implementation of IT Act.”
The DoT letter, which was issued to ISPs, invokes Section 69A of IT Act to block access to the websites of these taxi aggregators. According to a Wikipedia entry, “the Section 69A of the IT Act authorises the Central government, the power to direct either a government agency or an intermediary to block access to any website under a list of very specific circumstances. If intermediary sites fail to comply with a blocking order, they may get punishment of imprisonment and fines. Intermediaries here are telecom service providers, blogging sites, online payment sites, e-mail service providers and Web hosting companies.”
The app/online based taxi service providers, which prefer to call themselves “on demand transport technology aggregators” rather conventional taxi service provider, had come under wide scrutiny after a rape case in Delhi earlier this year. The accused was an Uber driver who hadn’t been verified by the taxi providers. The incident led halt of Uber services in Delhi. However, the service provider and the transport department had received wide criticism. Read everything about Delhi rape case and Uber outrage here. As part of damage control efforts, Uber had introduced a panic button in its Indian app. Another feature called Safety Net has been introduced which allows Uber riders to share trip data with as many as five friends or family members. Ola Cabs also has a similar service.
ISPs, however, may write the telecom department to express their inability to block these websites. According to an Economic Times report, the ISPs cannot block https websites. Ola and Uber have https websites, while Taxiforsure has a http site. “We can only block http sites and not the https sites as the latter have higher encryption codes,” Rajesh Chharia, the president of the Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI) is quoted as saying. “However, users can still book cabs through the apps rendering the blocking of websites useless. We have repeatedly communicated to the telecom department that sites with high encryption codes cannot be blocked by us,” Chharia added.