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Revealing caller name does not pose privacy concerns: TRAI chairman

TRAI first introduced the idea of displaying the caller’s name in a consultation paper back in 2022.

“There is no privacy concern. If I’m calling you, I can’t say I’m calling you, but you have no right to know my name. It’s a conversation between two individuals and the recipient has the right to know who is calling them,” the chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Anil Kumar Lahoti said, according to a report by the Economic Times. Lahoti’s comment comes only a day after the regulator released its recommendations stating that a Calling Name Presentation (CNAP) Supplementary Service should be introduced in the country’s telecommunication network and that all telcos should provide this service to their customers upon the customer’s request.

TRAI first introduced the idea of displaying the caller’s name in a consultation paper back in 2022. The authority suggested that this could be a solution to spam and calls by unregistered telemarketers. As per the report, Lahoti said that various ministries would have to coordinate efforts to curb phishing attempts made through spam calls and messages.  Lahoti’s stance on the privacy aspect of caller identification is in line with what former TRAI chair PD Vaghela had said when the regulator conducted a discussion on the CNAP service in 2022. “For example, if you are having a meeting with someone, can you choose to not declare your name but have a meeting?” he had said during the discussion, clarifying that the regulator supported privacy.

Why have people raised privacy concerns about the service?

One of the key issues brought up by stakeholders in the past was that the CNAP service failed the test of proportionality under the Puttaswamy judgment. They questioned whether it is a proportionate decision to violate all telecom users’ privacy when only a small subset of callers are fraudulent or spam in nature.

In its 2022 submission to the consultation on CNAP, the Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS) pointed out that a caller’s name, is considered personal information, and the disclosure of this information (along with caller’s number) without the caller’s consent could be considered a violation of their privacy.

TRAI, on the other hand, has said that in case a choice is given to callers on whether they will or will not be identified, it would result in a situation where bad actors and telemarketers would choose to withhold their names. As such, telco customers would continue to be victimized by scams/spam, defeating the purpose of CNAP. The regulator notes there is already a Caller Line Identification Restriction (CLIR) service in place, which enables normal subscribers, officers of Central Intelligence Agencies, and dignitaries to withhold their identities. It states that CNAP should be disabled for anyone who has enabled CLIR. Lahoti also reiterated this opt-out feature in his interaction with the media, as per the ET report.

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