In what could be a case of unauthorized mobile surveillance by the government, an Indian Express report reveals a unique request made by the department of telecommunications.
The request was made by the local units of the Department of Telecommunications, where call data records of several users from the states of Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Kerala, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab were asked for.
A call data record provides a variety of information about a particular mobile number for a specified period. This includes details such as the name of the subscriber, the details of calls made by this subscriber during a given period, the duration of each call, whether the call terminated normally or abnormally, rough location of the caller, rough location of the call recipient etc.
The report revealed how call data records were sought by the department for the dates February 2-4 of this year for mobile users in Delhi. This period coincides with the Citizenship Act protests that were in full swing during the same time, as well as the highly volatile campaigning seen during the Delhi elections. With the capital being home to several personalities as well as having multiple VVIP zones including residences of ministers, MPs, Judges etc., allegations of government surveillance haven’t taken long to surface.
The reason such a request has garnered suspicion is the manner in which the request for the call records has been made. Past instances have shown where law enforcement agencies and even the department of telecommunications has requested such information in light of national security. However
The unusual request made by the Department of Telecommunications came to light when Cellular Operators Association of India red-flagged these requests on February 12. The complaint revolved around how no specific reason or intended purpose was given as to why the call data records were being requisitioned.
This act is likely to be an incomplete violation of the privacy norms that were strengthened in 2013 when rules for procuring call data records were made more stringent. Under new rules, the only officer of the rank of SP and above are authorised to obtain details from telecom operators. This can only be done after clearance has been granted by the Home Secretary. They also need to inform the District Magistrate about CDRs obtained every month. This puts the request made by the Department of Telecommunications in violation of these rules.
What is also alarming is that the report revealed that such a practice has been going on for several months now, with the government seeking the call records of various mobile subscribers from numerous parts of the country. The requests have even seen a surge in the months of January and February of this year.
While it may also be possible that the government had requested the call records to monitor the call drop rates amongst various telecom operators, the timing and location make the unusual request a strange one