"Aim Was To Improve Services, Not Spy": Centre Denies Call Surveillance

A group of telecom operators has written to the government expressing concern over the Department of Telecom (DoT) asking for call data records of users.

'Aim Was To Improve Services, Not Spy': Centre Denies Call Surveillance

Telecom department sought additional call data on ad hoc basis, operators said (Representational)

New Delhi:

The government today denied asking for call details of citizens after excerpts of a letter by telecom operators to the Department of Telecom were reported today, raising concerns about state surveillance.

"There were complaints of call drops from various places, after which the government asked for call data records randomly and in bulk to investigate how many attempts it took to connect calls and the number of call drops," official sources said.

"The government's aim was to improve telecom services, not spy on citizens," they asserted, pointing out that mobile operators were liable to pay fines for call drops.

A group of telecom operators has written to the government expressing concern over the Department of Telecom (DoT) asking for call data records of users. Call data records have "personal and sensitive information" and should not be shared, the Cellular Operators' Association of India has written in its letter to DoT last month.

"DoT is clarifying its mandate under the Telegraph Act to collect such data and it is being done purely for network management purposes - to improve call quality and help resolve issues. We are awaiting final clearance from the DoT on its response," the COAI told NDTV.

The cellular operators had urged the government not to ask for call data records (CDRs) on an ad hoc basis and without specifying the purpose. NDTV has learnt that following the letter, the Department of Telecom reached out to COAI and there may be discussions soon.

"CDRs sought for specific routes/areas may lead to allegations of surveillance, especially in the state like Delhi having numerous VVIP zones having offices and residences of Ministers, MPs, Judges etc," said the letter by the COAI on February 12, addressed to Anshu Prakash, the Department of Telecom.

Pointing to the sensitive information in call records, the operator say in their letter that "utmost precaution is required to be exercised while providing as well as seeking such CDRs".

The letter pointed at SOPs established by the telecom department. These included ascertaining the identity of the subscriber, examining the justification carefully, detailing the purpose for seeking their call records and not using the data for any other purpose.

The operators said "despite such detailed and clear process", various units of DoT were not adhering to the process and "continue to seek voluminous CDR details on regular basis in contravention to the above referred instructions".

The DoT units "continue to seek one day CDR details from the licensee on monthly basis like Andhra Pradesh (1st and 5th day of the month), Delhi (18th Day), Haryana (21st Day), Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir (last day of the previous month), Kerala and Odisha (15th Day), Madhya Pradesh and Punjab (last day of previous month and first day of current month) etc," the cellular operators said.

The department also continued to seek additional CDR details on ad hoc basis, they said.

"For example, recently Delhi LSA unit of DoT has sought CDR details of 2nd, 3rd and 4th February, 2020 both for entire Delhi LSA and separately also for specific route locations in Delhi."

The purpose of asking for this data had not been specified, said the letter.