by Danish Raza
New Delhi: The government has directed all telecom service providers to make location details, a mandatory part of call data records (CDR) of all mobile users in the country, starting mid- 2014, according to a Department of Telecommunications (DoT) directive obtained by Firstpost.
Effectively what this means, is that in addition to the contact number of the person you spoke to, duration of the call and details of the mobile tower you used, CDRs will now also reflect details of where you were when you made a call. The DoT directive is titled ‘Amendments to the unified access service license agreement for security related concerns for expansion of telecom services in various zones of the country’ and has been issued to all unified access service licensees.
Telecom companies are known to have assisted investigative agencies in probing criminal and terror cases by providing such details in the past. It is also common for agencies to tap mobile phones. But this exercise which aims to track the location of every mobile user in the country, is unprecedented in sheer scale and intention.
What is noteworthy here however, is the accuracy with which the government wants to know where you are- more than 90 percent accuracy in urban (sic), defined as more than one million mobiles in a municipal unit. While the location tracking exercise has its genesis in a DoT order issued in May 2011, its effect on the ground should be visible from mid- 2014.
To start with, these details will be provided for specified mobile numbers. “However, within a period of three years location details shall be part of CDR for all mobile calls,” said the directive.
The DoT directive says that while detecting the location of the mobile users in urban centers, the telecom operator should achieve 80 percent accuracy in first year followed by 95 percent accuracy in the second year. But it is not clear from the note that to achieve these accuracies, the starting year is 2011 (when the order was issued) or 2014 (when location details shall be part of CDR for all mobile calls).
A cyber security analyst has called this an ‘alarming’ development and did not rule out the possibility of the government feeding citizens’ CDR information into the central monitoring system (CMS) – the centralised project through which the union government plans to monitor phone and internet activity in the country. Civil rights groups have also criticised CMS, describing the move as ‘chilling’.
“Through this DoT directive, the government is merely asking mobile operators to maintain location details. But for CMS, mobile companies have to transfer all such details to the government. Therefore, eventually, I believe, these details will be fed into the central server,” said Commander (rtd) Mukesh Saini, former national information security coordinator, government of India.
Alarming as it appears, but India is not the only country to conduct location tracking of its citizens. “This is a standard practice in European countries which use GSM technology, said V K Mittal, former scientist with National Technical Research Organisation. He added that obtaining location details of targets is an integral part of agency modules while cracking criminal and terror cases. However, to do this for every mobile user, Mittal said, is illegal, unethical and unconstitutional as the state will be able to continuously target its citizens. “This is a clear indication that we are now moving towards a totalitarian regime in the name of security.”
Jiten Jain, Delhi based cyber security analyst, said that going by the kind of information which the government already possess, it is not surprising if location details become part of CDR. “But monitoring the location of every citizen is like creating a monster,” he said