Detectives, lawyers and Bollywood names have been dragged into the Call Detail Records case being investigated by Thane police. Law enforcement agencies now rely more on “technical intelligence” of CDR than the human intelligence of khabris or informers.
MOHAMED THAVER explains why this is so.
What details do CDR have?
The CDR of a person reveals the number of calls s/he made and received, the numbers to whom the calls were made or received from, the date, time and duration of the calls. The CDR also holds the phone numbers of sent and received SMSes of a mobile phone but not the contents of the messages. Most important, the records also reveal the location from where the calls were made, which is many times crucial in crime investigations. This helps in establishing the location of a person on a given day. That information would be helpful, for example, in proving or disproving a suspect’s presence at the scene of a crime around the time it was committed.
Who can have access to CDR? What is the procedure?
Law enforcement agencies both at the central and state level — the CBI, Income Tax department, intelligence agencies, police, counter-terrorism agencies such as the NIA and the ATS — are allowed access to CDR during investigation, subject to certain permissions.
In 2014, the Bombay High Court also allowed the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) to seek CDR to investigate market frauds. Under the rules, only an officer of the rank of Superintendent of Police — a DCP-rank officer in a commissionerate — can write to the nodal officer of a mobile network service provider seeking the CDR of persons in connection to an investigation. Normally, a police station sends the numbers for which they need CDR to the designated police officer who emails it to the service provider.
How long does the process take? The CDRs can be accessed for how long back?
In sensitive cases, such as ones suspected to be linked to terror, murder or a rape when an accused is on the run and has to be arrested, an urgent request can ensure that the CDR is sent in half an hour by the mobile network service provider. In other cases it can take up to a fortnight. Normally, mobile companies allow access to a person’s CDR for up to a year. If there is a need for CDRs from further back, special permission is required from senior police officers.
Can an individual obtain CDR? How did CDRs get leaked to detectives and lawyers arrested by Thane police?
Individuals cannot obtain CDR. In the THane CDR case, the police believe that some detectives managed to illegally obtain the data either from rogue lower-rung policemen of another state or some officials of the mobile network service providers by allegedly bribing them. The CDR of each person cost nearly Rs 10,000-15,000 in this case.
Normally, lawyers wanting to strengthen their cases against rivals, spouses suspecting infidelity, corporates wanting to spy on rivals and insurance companies wanting to check accident details are known to have been clients of these detectives.
How does CDR manage to trace the location of the person? Does it provide the exact location of the mobile phone user?
The CDR relies on the tower location of a person on the basis of which his/her location is traced. In the CDR, the service provider mentions the tower number from which the person received network while making a particular call. The user can then check online the location of that tower by using that tower’s number. A mobile tower normally covers an area of about 500 metres in radius. In several cases, however, the service provider mentions the latitude and longitude within the mobile tower’s radius from where the call was made. Using GPS apps, the police are able to pinpoint the location of the person within the 500-metre area.
What are the uses of getting the location of a person?
Getting the location of a person plays an important part for both the police in their investigation and to prove their case in a court. Recently, the murder case of assistant police inspector Ashwini Bidre was solved by Navi Mumbai police primarily based on the CDR of Bidre and the accused police inspector Abhay Kurundkar that showed they were both at the Bhayander creek on the day she is believed to have been murdered. However, those accused of crimes too can use the CDR to prove that they were not at the scene of crime when it was committed. Ehtesham Siddiqui, one of the convicts in the 2007 Mumbai train blast was known to have filed several RTIs to get the copies of the CDR the investigators possessed.
Does CDR have evidentiary value in a court of law?
In the judgment of the P V Anvar v/s PK Basheer case, the Supreme Court laid down guidelines for electronic evidence. Lawyer Prakash Salsingikar said that if it is proved that the guidelines laid down were followed while retrieving the CDR — that falls under electronic evidence — the evidence can be useful. If not, the evidence has zero value and can be discarded. Guidelines include ensuring that the master server of a mobile service provider is fed all the CDR data automatically without any human intervention and only one designated person has the password of the master server where all the data is stored. The lawyer said that generally if procedures are followed, the CDR is taken on record. The CDR is important as evidence especially when it comes to proving cases depending on circumstantial evidence.