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Citing security, Centre asks phone firms to keep call records for two years

Through a notification dated December 21, the DoT has said all call detail record, exchange detail record, and IP detail record of communications “exchanged” on a network must be archived for two years or until specified by the government for “scrutiny” for security reasons.

Written by Aashish Aryan , Pranav Mukul , Mahender Singh Manral | New Delhi |
Updated: December 24, 2021 10:27:30 am
Senior executives from telecom and Internet service providers said that even though the government asks companies to keep these details for at least 12 months, the norm is to keep it for up to 18 months.

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has amended the Unified License Agreement asking telecom and Internet service providers as well as all other telecom licensees to maintain commercial and call detail records for at least two years, instead of the current one-year practice. The additional time, sources said, was based on requests from multiple security agencies.

Through a notification dated December 21, the DoT has said all call detail record, exchange detail record, and IP detail record of communications “exchanged” on a network must be archived for two years or until specified by the government for “scrutiny” for security reasons. Internet service providers will also have to maintain details of “internet telephony” in addition to the usual IP detail record for a period of two years, the notification said.

“It is a procedural order. Many security agencies pointed out to us that they needed data even after a year since most investigations take more than that to be completed. We had a meeting with all service providers who agreed to keep the data for the extended period,” a senior DoT official said.

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.

The licence condition also goes on to mandate that CDRs be provided by mobile companies to law-enforcement agencies and to various courts upon their specific requests or directions, for which there is a laid-down protocol.

Senior executives from telecom and Internet service providers said that even though the government asks companies to keep these details for at least 12 months, the norm is to keep it for up to 18 months.

“Whenever we destroy such details, we notify the liaison office or the officer of the time period for which the data is being wiped. If any additional requests come to us through proper legal channels, we keep that data. But then everything else is removed within the next 45 days,” an executive at a telecom service provider said.

Another executive at a telecom company said there would be “hardly any additional costs” to keep this data for two years as these details are stored in text format which does not take up a lot of space. “This data most is just who called up whom and what was the duration of the call, and it is in text format, like a list on an Excel sheet. In our opinion, there would be hardly any additional costs,” the executive said, adding that globally, the norm is to keep this data between six months to up to two years depending on the jurisdiction.

Most countries, an industry expert said, allow this data to be kept for extended periods with an option for the user to get their data deleted in case they exercise their right to be forgotten.

In March last year, The Indian Express had reported that the government has been seeking call data records of all mobile subscribers across several pockets of the country for specific days. The government had then said that these call records were being asked as the government had received complaints regarding “quality of service of Telecommunications Network, call drops, echo, cross connections, incomplete or poor caller experience”.

In an official statement, the Ministry of Communications had then said: “There is no infringement of privacy of any person. No personal details are collected. There is no tracking of any phone number.” It said data of calls had been sought to address “numerous complaints” regarding “quality of service of Telecommunications Network, call drops, echo, cross connections, incomplete or poor caller experience”.

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