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Perils of keeping phone tap requests on hold

Last updated on: October 23, 2012 12:10 IST

Perils of keeping phone tap requests on hold

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Vicky Nanjappa

Vicky Nanjappa reports on the recent showdown between telecom operator Airtel and the Research and Analysis Wing over tapping of certain phones

India's premier espionage agency, Research and Analysis Wing faced an embarrassing situation recently when a request to tap some numbers was put on hold by Bharti Airtel.

A letter by Arun K Sinha, joint secretary officer in RAW, to the Department of Telecom stated that the service provider's approach was "unacceptable". The matter was, however, resolved with the telecom firm being directed to comply with the demand of the RAW.

In its explanation, Airtel said that it will put the numbers requested by RAW on tapping and there was a delay as there was no space at that time. While the issue may have been put to rest today, the ironic aspect of this incident is that the RAW, which handles high profile international cases, was asked to wait.

Sources tell rediff.com that matters such as these must be taken up on a priority basis and telecom operators cannot complain about the want of space.

Telecom companies may be burdened with requests of legitimate phone tapping, but then when it comes to matters of national security especially when a request comes from the RAW it should be treated as urgent, an officer pointed out.

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Not only is a great deal of time lost, but vital information that could have been derived by tapping these numbers would also slip out if such cases are not treated on a priority basis.

An intelligence officer says that it is for the government to react in such cases and ensure that such let-ups do not take place.

There are various agencies, which seek tapping of phones, but when it comes from agencies such as the CBI and the RAW that coordinate with the Interpol, it should be treated on a priority basis.

Currently, there are over 10,000 phones that are being tapped lawfully in India.

Before a phone is tapped, the agency needs to fill out an authorisation form. Once the request is authorised, cellular phone operators need to comply with the same. They use mediation servers to tap phones.

They use a method called the Integrated Services Digital Network where a call is intercepted and the same is transmitted through a Primary Rate Interface line to the agency, which has requested the tapping.

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Telecom operators have often complained about the want of space, as they are capable of taking on only a select number of cases at one given time and hence they tend to put requests on hold.

They get requests from various agencies both at the national and state level and once the authorisation is through then they have to abide by the direction.

C D Sahay, former RAW chief points out that it is for the government to take a decision on such matters.

He says, it is the government that needs to set guidelines so that such matters are treated on a priority basis. Telling the RAW that they are on hold is a matter of concern as its charter is external intelligence and matters it deals with are serious in nature. If the telecom company has complained about the want of space then it is for the government to work alongside and better the infrastructure and provide for space so that more cases can be taken on at a given time.

There is no point in complaining about the infrastructure and putting important agencies on hold since it would only lead to delay in probing a case, says Sahay, adding that there is also a need to provide for better technical assistance in such cases and matters involving national security and that this is not something that can be compromised.



Tags: RAW , Sahay , Telecom

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