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Is it true, that using or travelling with satellite phone is strictly and unconditionally banned in India? And if yes, is there any explanation or official reason, why?

I have found such information, when browsing various sources before my business trip to India, though I can't recall that particular source, so I wish to confirm this, quite surprising, information.

I can understand banning usage of such devices in areas, places or installation related to national security, police, army etc. But country-wide, unconditional ban for these devices, with underlined addition, that confiscation, high money fine or even up to three years in jail sentence may be executed, even after declaring such device on entry -- that is something beyond my imagination.

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"Because terrorism" is the answer to most security-related questions. The terrorists have sadly won a long time ago. – JonathanReez Mar 9 at 19:10
Not a good situation for mountaineers, I guess. There's some stuff about INMARSAT being allowed, with specific permission. – Spehro Pefhany Mar 9 at 19:23
I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it belongs on, not – Calchas Mar 9 at 21:27
SAT phones can't be tapped by the government. Everything else is just justification. – tylerl Mar 10 at 4:23
@Calchas Assuming that: (a) information on banned satellite phones were found by my on a travel site (Wikitravel), (b) information on what you can or can't bring with you, when travelling is IMHO strictly bind to travelling... let me say, that I disagree with you. Do you also think, that asking about, what you should buy when travelling somewhere belongs to a shopping discussion forum? Stack Exchange sites are mostly blend of topics, ya know... – trejder Mar 10 at 19:49
up vote 20 down vote accepted

The use of satellite phones violates the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, the The Indian Wireless Telegraph Act, 1933, the Indian Penal Code, and the Foreigners Order of 1948. The Government of India declared satellite phones as threat to national security because of several recent act of terrorism. Use of satellite phones for personal and commercial use is prohibited in the country. Only security agencies and defense forces can use it legally. To use any sort of satellite phone, permission has to be taken from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT). Please check out this Wikipedia article also.

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I'm curious how an 1885 law banned an item that wasn't invented until a hundred years later... maybe you could specify exactly where in the Indian Telegraph Act the key clauses are? – TylerH Mar 9 at 16:35
@TylerH The only reasonable explanation to me is that Indian telecoms law operates under a baseline what's not explicitly permitted is illegal basis; and for obvious reasons none of the pre-space age laws allowed satphones. – Dan Neely Mar 9 at 16:39
@TylerH "Within India, the Central Government shall have exclusive privilege of establishing, maintaining and working telegraphs" and "'telegraph’ means any appliance [...] used [...] for transmission or reception of signs, signals, writing, images and sounds or intelligence of any nature by wire, visual or other electro-magnetic emissions, radio waves or Hertzian waves, galvanic, electric or magnetic means." That's how. – MrLemon Mar 9 at 16:42
No WiFi in India either? NFC (i.e. every modern cell phone) forbidden? Heck, even my VISA card which contains a transponder chip, is illegal? As is my passport? – Damon Mar 9 at 17:00
@phoog That wouldn't be an 1885 law, then. It'd be a whatever-year-it-was-amended-in law. – TylerH Mar 9 at 18:48

Amateur (ham) radio is certainly legal in India and takes place regularly. Not being from India, I can only offer an electronics expert's possible explanation. The vast majority of voice ham radio - VHF, UHF and the HF spectrum - operate by either a 'line of sight' or 'skip' propagation method. Additionally, it's fairly uncommon for ham radio operators to communicate with someone directly overhead - they nearly always are contacting and conversing with someone located at some distance on the horizon from them. These communications leave a clear path which is subject to easy intercept (monitoring). While hams do use satellite communications, there are relatively few ham satellites and the communications going through them is easily monitored. While satellite phones also use the same radio waves, their communication is intended (and always takes place) with a repeater above the horizon. What's the meaning of all that? In a nutshell, it's possible for a sat phone to be down in a wide hole (or deep valley), communicating through a satellite passing directly overhead. The 'line of sight' in these cases would not extend to the horizon to any degree. Therefore, these conversations are extremely difficult to monitor, with the notable exception being electronic intelligence (ELINT) aircraft flying overhead or intelligence satellites. I'm not aware of India having an intelligence satellite or the necessary infrastructure to easily decrypt and intercept the satellite phones' conversations. Know that I'm not implying that India doesn't have the technical knowhow, but I believe that they have much bigger fish to fry and eliminating the legal use of satellite phones is probably an easier method of keeping comms where they can be intercepted and intelligence gleaned from them acted upon. That's my $0.02 and I'm certainly subject to being wrong about the above conclusions.

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@TylerH Who knows how they label laws in India? In the United States, we still operate under the Communications Act of 1934 - "as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996" and that last phrase frequently isn't quoted. :) – John Bowman Mar 9 at 19:24
While what you say seems plausible, whether or not it's the answer to the question is pure speculation. Given that Indian laws appear to be that telecommunications devices are only allowed if explicitly permitted, it's also possible that the only reason satellite phones aren't allowed is that it was never felt important enough to pass a law authorizing their use. Having said that, one suspects that the answer to any question of the form "Why did government X do or not do Y?" is likely to be purely speculative. – David Richerby Mar 9 at 19:42
This from another site: "The use of satellite phones violates Section 4 of the Indian telegraph act of 1885, the Indian Wireless Telegraph Act of 1933 and the Indian Penal Code and the Foreigners Order of 1948. The government of India has stated that they are not able to intercept ingoing and outgoing calls on satellite phones, therefore because of the ongoing threat of terrorism, the technology is forbidden. Anyone wishing to bring a sat phone into India, needs to first get a licence which will then need to be presented to the police and immigration." – John Bowman Mar 9 at 20:37

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