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What The Home Ministry’s Communications Monitoring Tender Tells Us

Later today, as the deadline runs out at 1600hrs IST, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs will stop accepting proposals for a technology deployment that will operationalize a rather worrying project: the interception of all telephonic and mobile data communication in India. As we’ve pointed out earlier, there appears to be an increasing focus from the Indian government on three things: monitoringidentification, and the power to restrict/block (we call this the Troika of Paranoia). Download the tender document, from the MHA’s website, here.

The deployment will be across 30 locations all over India, in each state and Union Territory. Here is what the Indian government wants the “Communications Monitoring facility” to be technically capable of tracking:

– Telecom Operators covered: All existing operators for GSM, CDMA & PSTN will be included in network for monitoring, across all circles and states. The system needs to be capable of monitoring: of Voice Calls, SMS & MMS, GPRS and FAX communications on Landlines (PSTN), CDMA and GSM networks. This includes Video Calls.

– Calls: The system should be able to monitor all Call Content (CC) and Caller intercept Related Information (CRI) in real‐time as well as in off‐line monitoring for full duration of the call.

The information stored includes Calling Number, Called Number, Start Date & Time, End Date & Time, Duration, IMEI (Calling No. & Called No.), IMSI (Calling No. & Called No.), Complete Cell ID (Calling No. & Called No.) with Latitude and Longitude, DTMF digits dialled during the call, Type of Call (Voice/FAX/SMS)], 3G calls with IP addresses of the target phones, Call Forwarding Number (if available), among others.

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Monitoring and analysis includes “Live‐listening, recording, storage, playback, analysis, postprocessing at the Monitoring Centre. The system should be capable to intercept all 3G calls in real‐time made from the target phones.

– GPRS: The system should be able to intercept all GPRS (online Internet) transactions made from the target phones. The system should have unified viewing of different service types including SMS/ GPRS/ EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for Global Evolution)/Data Calls, 3G calls and Fax etc. via unified GUI (Graphic User Interface)

– SMS: System should be able to monitor, retrieve and digitally store Multi Lingual SMS data including Multimedia and provide the following minimum information with each intercepted SMS: SMS Direction, Monitored Number, SMSC Number, SMS Content, IMEI (Calling No. & Called No.), IMSI (Calling Number & Called Number), Complete CGI (Cell‐ID) (Calling No. & Called No.), Latitude and Longitude, Other Party Number

– Geographical analysis: Among the features being requested, is the ability to plot the information on a map to enable geographical analysis of the calls.

– Voice Recognition: while this is not a prerequisite, a ‘desirable’ feature is that the service should have integrated Voice Separation & Recognition System to identify suspect callers on the fly by matching against suspect database and raising a flag on suspect calls (both Online & Offline).

– Formats: “This suspect database should have a provision for import/export of voice samples in wav and mp3 formats. The system should have a provision to store/manage the identified suspect calls including 3G separately.

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– Ownership of Data: By virtue of the Contract, the contractor’s team may have access to personal and business information of the Buyer/Purchaser and/or a third party or any other person. The Buyer/Purchaser have the sole ownership of and the right to use, all such data in perpetuity including any data or other information pertaining to a third party or any other person that may be in the possession of the contractor or contractor’s team in the course of performing the Service(s) under the Contract.

Apart from monitoring, recording, there are other visualization requirements mentioned in the document, including the ability to group certain calls, in order to analyse it. The Ministry of Home Affairs wants it to be possible to categorize call as co‐related or uncorrelated.

Our take

Call tracking and interception is not new to India, although not many people appear to be aware of it. One can take voyeuristic pleasure in listening to private conversationsmade public, but there is a risk that calls recorded might be spliced and diced, comments taken out of context. There needs to be adequate safeguards provided to protect the rights of citizens, and a judicial process followed for allowing interception of calls. While National Security is undoubtedly of great importance, the government should not overlook concerns around civil liberty.

P.s: While searching for the Amar Singh tapes on IBNLive, where I had first heard them, I couldn’t locate the audio. We’ve asked Network18 for a clarification on whether the Amar Singh tapes have been removed, and why.

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Written By

Founder @ MediaNama. TED Fellow. Asia21 Fellow @ Asia Society. Co-founder SaveTheInternet.in and Internet Freedom Foundation. Advisory board @ CyberBRICS

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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