A digital advocacy group Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) has refuted the telecom department’s claims that its demand for bulk call data record (CDR) was to analyse call drops. IFF says CDR’s could lead to mass surveillance and raised the need for surveillance reforms in India.
“The RTI responses do not support DoT’s claim that bulk Call Data Records were only sought for analysing call drops, and they reveal glaring factual inconsistencies and legal deficiencies,” said IFF in a statement.
In March, reports surfaced that Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) raised questions about the government allegedly seeking call data records (CDRs) of all mobile subscribers from telcos in several states — Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab.
COAI has written to DoT secretary Anshu Prakash and complained that due process was not being followed. In the complaint, COAI mentioned that the government has not specified the names of any individual or the purpose of collecting the data through local units of the department of telecommunications (DoT), which goes against the guidelines.
At the time, DoT refuted allegations that call data records (CDRs) sought from carriers was a breach of privacy and amounted to surveillance, saying that the details will be used to study poor network quality, call drops and cross-connection complaints.
“…this data is anonymous and does not contain names of either the maker or receiver of calls. There is no infringement of the privacy of any person. No personal details are collected. There is no tracking of any phone number,” DoT had then said.
In response, IFF has now said that according to the RTI response the reasoning given by the government does not tally with the details asked for. “Nowhere in the demand for CDRs was call drops or AI mentioned. Although the name and address were not asked for there are other 13 fields like -Calling Party Telephone Number, Called Party Telephone Number, Call Date, Call Time etc from which one can be identified,” Apar Gupta, Executive Director at Internet Freedom Foundation reportedly said.
“…bulk CDRs also facilitate mass surveillance of ordinary citizens and enable the government to keep a watch on our everyday interactions. These problems are emblematic of the larger need for surveillance reform in India and it is only through independent oversight that we can ensure the government acts in a transparent and accountable manner,” said IFF in its statement.
It also highlighted that Apex Advisory Council for Telecom in India (AACTI) wrote to the telecom secretary on the sensitivity of CDRs, violation of privacy. “As AACTI had noted, some of the areas for which bulk CDRs were requisitioned include places where Members of Parliament and Judges reside. This creates a very real possibility of the Executive surveilling other branches of government i.e. the Legislature and Judiciary, which are intended to act as a check on the Executive within our constitutional scheme,” IFF said.