Indian telecom companies are considering the interception of phone calls along with international long distance (ILD) traffic in case the tension in the country escalates. Although there has been no signal from the government regarding the same, the telcos are currently considering the situation since there the military has gone on high alert as the tensions increase in the north and northwestern region near the India-Pak border. The telcos are also discussing about stepping up their periodic security drills for the same reason.
No Orders from Government Yet to Intercept Calls
A statement has come from the director general of Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), Rajan Matthews which represents major telecom operators of India, Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio Infocomm. The executive in a statement to ETTelecom said that if the government asks any of the telecom service provider (TSPs) regarding their assistance, they would “be highly confidential and known only to the designated nodal officer in each TSP." He said, strict confidentiality requirements bind the nodal officer, so he was unable to confirm if operators have received any requests.
Going by the words of the industry experts, licensed carriers are technically equipped to intercept calls on the grounds of national security. However, for that to happen the security forces or the government will have to specify targets for the interception in a particular circle. A senior executive of a telecom operator declined to make any statements but also asserted that the company would remain fully committed for extending all possible support to the government and armed forces. There have also been talks about temporary internet shutdown in specific regions, but same as interception there has not been any official order on the same.
Temporary Internet Shutdown in Some Regions Also a Possibility
Ram Narain, former DDG (Security) in the telecom department, said in his statement, “The government can technically order temporary internet shutdowns in surcharged situations to pre-empt rumour mongering and the wrong sort of messages spreading in sensitive zones in national security interest, and can even direct telcos to intercept/tap specific calls, based on intelligence inputs.”
He also added that ILD communications between India and Pakistan might also be selectively monitored based on intelligence inputs by the authorities. This move would comply with the Indian Telegraph Act, he said.
Rajesh Chharia, president, Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI), though said that the association was not aware of any shutdowns or suspension orders by the government. The same words came from the IT ministry as well.
The set procedure in these situations lays down that phone companies have to report all network intrusion attempts to the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) which then follows up with the carriers regarding additional security response. COAI’s Rajan Matthews said that based on the feedback from the telecom operators, the government sees “threat patterns in the attacks on phone networks, as in whether they seem to be coming from a particular country/countries, or (if it’s) certain viruses,” and based on these assessments, “CERT-In advises operators on what measures may need to be taken”.