India’s Intelligence Bureau (IB) wants all mobile phone companies to keep call data records, or details of all phone calls made by their customers, for a period of five years. This move was strongly opposed by the said companies citing additional operational costs. Currently, telcos store call records only for six months.
This is the second time in the recent months that the IB has asked the telecom ministry to increase the period of storing communication logs of customers. The intelligence agency had earlier asked the telecom department to order Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to store a record of all online activities of customers for a minimum of six months.
But this has not been implemented because of several factors such as increased costs and possible issues with privacy. The home ministry, in a communication to the telecom ministry, had known that so far all efforts to get telcos save call records for more than one year had met with strong opposition due to the increased costs.
An executive with a telecom company said that the IB’s demands cannot be implemented without changes to the rules that were introduced last 2007 when foreign holdings in mobile phone companies were enhanced to 74%.
A Department of Telecommunications (DoT) official said that the IB's demands were being reviewed while elaborating that the no decision had been taken on this issue. He also said that the DoT may ask the inter-ministerial group currently looking into monitoring of both internet services and networks in the country must make a final decision on this issue.
Last month, the telecom department turned down a demand by intelligence agencies that all operators improve their infrastructure to tap the phones of at least one percent of their customers. This would have resulted in companies like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Essar, Reliance Communications and BSNL upgrading their infrastructure to tap one over million mobile phones each as all of them have over 100 million customers. Currently, large telcos are required by law to have requisite infrastructure in place to tap 1,000 phones simultaneously.
With over 800 million cell phone connections, implementing this IB plan would have required all telco operators to jointly create infrastructure to tap 8 million phones. According to expert estimates, all operators combined will have to invest anywhere between US$500 million to US$1billion, including servers and storage costs, to build capabilities to tap 8 million phones simultaneously.