privacy

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has stuck to its proposal for a sunset date to make GPS mandatory in all handsets, reports Techradar. According to the authority, this will help it find out the exact location of a caller in case of an emergency.

Note that this proposal was rejected by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), based on the fact that many people still use feature phones which usually do not support GPS, and citing that the impact of such a decision must be studied before taking a call. In the same proposal, TRAI had recommended 112 to be used as a single emergency number, an idea the DoT approved.

Medianama’s take: While we understand that TRAI might want better location data when an emergency number is called, we feel the mandate to push GPS on all devices is a little overreaching. This move, if gone through with, will raise the cost of manufacturing feature phones (which can’t really do things like display a map anyway), driving up the cost for the end user. There are even really low cost Android phones that come without GPS, enabling the really underprivileged to also get online. We understand that technologies like GPS will eventually become standard, but meanwhile pushing it in such an unhealthy way can only be detrimental to mobile and mobile internet adoption.

The second issue is that of user privacy, which the Indian government really, really doesn’t take seriously. A sanction to implement GPS on all phones without a proper legislation in place to protect the privacy of citizens, could easily lead to misuse of such a potent technology. Would the Government be allowed to track users without their knowledge? Will it be able to remotely turn GPS on with the justification of national security? Without a proper legal sanction to protect privacy, there are chances that such issues may not be raised with the concerned authority until it is too late.

Parliamentary standing committee on IT: Note that privacy is taking center stage in policy issues in India, especially after the Government of India said in the Supreme Court that there is no fundamental right to Privacy. The country doesn’t have a privacy law, and is setting up surveillance systems like the Centralized Monitoring System, NETRA, NATGRID (for collecting data from across databases), and linking citizens and databases across the unique identity number in Aadhaar.

Mandatory location based servers: Interestingly, back in 2013, the DoT had asked all telecom operators to install Location Based Servers (LBS) at the earliest to aid location based tracking of calls up to 50 meters in real time. This was after all the telecom companies failed to meet the deadline for installing LBS in 2012 owing to the high cost of installation.

As we had said then, the issue of installing Location Based Servers by telecom operators has been on the radar since 26th October 2009; Medianama has been tracking this issue since April 2010. In response to a RTI filed with the DoT, Medianama had received copies of the notices issued by the DoT to the telecom operators along with Bharati Airtel’s response to the notice expressing concern over the high cost of installation (Rs. 4500 crores) and consumer privacy issues.

Also read:

Aadhaar and the Waiver of the Right to Privacy

US Mass Surveillance loses data privacy battle in EU; What India needs to do

Updated: India’s draft encryption policy puts user privacy in danger

MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar pushes for a Privacy Law, says IT Ministry’s response in Parliament was “misleading”

Image source: Flickr user opensource.com