In what would certainly come under questionable use of power, the central government of India has reportedly been seeking call data records (CDRs) of all mobile subscribers across several regions of the country for specific days over the past few months, says a new Indian Express report.
The request was made from local branches of the Department of Telecommunications(DoT) to various telecom providers. The government has reportedly asked for data records from states of of Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Kerala, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab on different occasions. Taken aback by the nature of these requests, the Cellular Operators Association of India has decided to red flag them, writing a complaint to Anshu Prakash, Secretary, Department of Telecommunications.
The requests have been made for data sets from different states on random dates: Andhra Pradesh (1st and 5th days 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), and Madhya Pradesh and Punjab (last day of previous month and first day of current month). The dates and places look like they were picked in an ad havoc manner, with no real purpose.
Under Clause No. 39.20 of the licence agreement that the DoT has with the operators, the latter have to preserve records including CDRs and IP detail records (IPDR), for at least one year for scrutiny by the Licensor (which is DoT) for “security reasons,” and the Licensor “may issue directions/instructions from time to time” with respect to these records.
However, in their COAI’s complaint, it mentioned that the DoT has neither stated the purpose for the collection of these CDRs, nor the identity of the subscribers, which is a violation of privacy norms.
Under the current guidelines, only police officers of the rank of SP or above can seek call records after the clearance from Home Secretary. The officer then has to to give a mandatory declaration to District Magistrates (DMs) about the CDRs obtained every month.
However, the current request violates those norms, as was remarked by a former chairperson of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) who said,“This is most unusual. Once they have a database, they can query specific numbers to ascertain who spoke to whom. There must be a reason (given for asking CDR details), without which it is an arbitrary action and a violation of the right to privacy.”
A senior telecom executive explained to Indian Express as to why these requests have been red flagged by saying, “They are not just asking for one particular person’s data. They are saying give us everybody’s data on this day in this region. That is clearly violative of the standard operating procedure. They need a probable cause to tap into someone’s data.”
While these requests seem like they don’t have any real purpose, the dates from which the CDRs from Delhi are being requested ‘coincidentally’ match the dates of anti CAA protests, with campaigning for Delhi elections stopping just two days apart.