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Explained: Why is DoT asking for call data records by the bulk?

Stakeholders have claimed that the government seeking such details on specific dates for certain pockets in the country without mentioning the reason is highly unusual.

Written by Pranav Mukul , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: March 19, 2020 12:21:12 pm
Explained: Why is DoT asking for call data records by the bulk? It is unclear why the government has been seeking call records data by the bulk. (Express Photo/File)

Operators have red-flagged the fact that local circle units of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) have been asking for call data records (CDRs) by the bulk. Stakeholders have claimed that the government seeking such details on specific dates for certain pockets in the country without mentioning the reason is highly unusual.

What does the CDR entail?

A call data record of a subscriber is a string of information about that mobile phone number for a particular time period. This string of information includes details such as the name of the subscriber, the details of calls made by this subscriber during a given time period, the duration of each call, whether the call terminated normally or abnormally, rough location of the caller, rough location of the call recipient and various other such details. Read news in TamilMalayalam

Explained

Not in line with revised rules

Rules for obtaining call records were tightened following a row in 2013 over unauthorised access to CDRs of several politicians. Under the new guidelines, only an officer of the rank of SP and above was authorised to seek details from telecom operators, and inform the DM of CDRs obtained every month. The current request is not in line with these guidelines.

Why is it unusual for the government to seek CDR details?

While it is usual for law enforcement agencies and even the DoT to seek such data records from telecom operators for a specific period, the manner in which the data is now being sought by the Department is in contravention of the usual trend and exploits a little-known provision in the licensing agreement between the government and the operators. The Licensing Condition No.39.20 of the Licence Agreement for Unified License stipulates that all the operators have to preserve CDRs at least for one year “for scrutiny by the licenser for security reasons”. The licenser, in this case, is the DoT. The licence condition goes on to mandate that CDRs be provided by mobile companies to the law enforcement agencies & to various courts upon their specific requests or directions, for which there is a laid-down protocol.

Indian government call data records, surveillance indian government, call records CAA protest India, Indian Express news The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) have been asking for call data records (CDRs) by the bulk. (Illustration by C R Sasikumar)

Why has the DoT been asking for these details?

Even though it is unclear why exactly the government has been seeking these records by the bulk, operators have said that one-off requests are considered to be usual. However, over the past few months, certain patterns started to emerge where the DoT was asking for these details on a regular basis by the bulk without providing the purpose for which it is required.

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However, some telecom executives have alluded to the possibility that the DoT could be asking these details to monitor the call-drop situation, but said that CDRs would not paint a clear picture of the poor quality of service scenario, which is, in any case being monitored by the sector regulator.

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