E-surveillance and eavesdropping has tremendously increased in India. the Indian government is bringing systematic changes in the telecom policies and licences to enforce these e-surveillance oriented exercises. Even the Information Technology Act, 2000 was amended in the year 2008 to confer unlimited e-surveillance powers upon Indian government and its agencies. So bad is the situation that there have been suggestions regarding repealing of the Indian cyber law and Indian telegraph law.
Nevertheless till these unconstitutional laws are repealed, they would still govern the commercial relationships between telecom companies and Indian government. Recently, the Indian government introduced fresh set of do’s and don’ts for telecom companies for lawful interception bringing internet telephony VoIP, SMS and MMS under Indian Telegraph Act. Further, the IT Act, 2000 prescribes many cyber laws due diligence requirements (PDF) that Indian telecom companies are not at all following. For instance, the reports of violations of cyber law due diligence and Internet intermediary rules by Tata Teleservices Limited and Airtel are well known.
Now the Ministry of Home Affairs, India has decided to tighten the noose further. The ET has reported that Home Secretary Anil Goswami has sought Telecom Secretary MF Farooqui’s intervention to expedite clearance for the Intelligence Bureau (IB) to test an interception solution to monitor voice over internet protocol (VoIP) calls in India. If the trial is successful, it will be possible to screen VoIP services offered by the likes of Skype, Yahoo Messenger, GTalk, Fring and RediffBol, among others in India. This is in addition to the legal requirement that Internet telephony and VOIP service providers must establish servers in India now.
The IB plans to test the VoIP interception solution on Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd’s networks in consultation with the department of electronics and IT. “A team of DeiTY and Intelligence Bureau officers may be permitted access to BSNL’s networks to test a lawful interception solution on VoIP traffic,” Goswami wrote to Farooqui.
The home secretary’s letter also added that the IB would be the law enforcement agency under Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, which “would be maintaining a full record of VoIP traffic intercepted on test basis and retain only transcripts required in the interest of national security”.
Apart from the IB, the home ministry also plans to instruct India’s Computer Emergency Response (Cert-IN) team to maintain a full record of the VoIP interception trails on BSNL’s network. Cert-IN has been mandated by the government to respond to computer security incidents, track system vulnerabilities and promote effective IT security practices.
The home ministry had recently urged the telecom department to block all VoIP services that cannot be monitored or intercepted in audible or viewable format by national law enforcement agencies. It had even suggested that the DoT tweak the licence norms to make it binding on service providers to allow interception of VoIP traffic. Learning from the interception pilot will be used by the government to fine tune the Centralised Monitoring System (CMS), the much-awaited national surveillance system that will equipped to track all forms of communications, including wireless, landline, satellite, internet and VoIP calls from next year. Further, the Internet Spy System Network and Traffic Analysis System (NETRA) of India, Aadhar, National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), etc would also support intelligence agencies e-surveillance initiatives in India.
The life of telecom companies and companies engaged in telecom related business is going to be a tough one in the near future. They have to comply with the techno legal requirements where both technical and legal issues would be required to be complied with in true letter and spirit.