Friday, June 17, 2011

Cell Site Location Based E-Surveillance In India

While it came as a respite for the encryption service providers in India when they received the news that their services may not be banned in India yet local telecom service providers in India may not be that lucky. The new telecom equipment policy of India mandates the telecom service providers of India have to ensure location based services accuracy (LBSA) upto 50 meters.

The constitutionality and feasibility of this directive is yet to be analysed. For instance we have no cell site data location laws in India. In fact, we have no privacy laws, data protection laws, data security laws, anti telemarketing laws, anti spam laws, etc. On the contrary, the cyber law of India, incorporated in the information technology act 2000 (IT Act 2000), facilitates e-surveillance, Internet censorship, etc that also without any sort of procedural safeguards. Thus, neither a constitutional nor a statutory legal framework is at place to justify this action on the part of Indian government.

Even if we do a cost analysis this directive may require a heavy investment that telecom operators of India may not be wiling to invest. Telecom industry of India is seriously concerned with the burden shifting practice of Indian government. They believe that governmental security requirements must be managed by government funds alone and should not be passed upon industry players. The new equipment security agreement of India is not addressing either the legal or cost issues.

Technical problems have also been cited as a reason for non feasibility of the terms of Indian equipment security agreement. Based on, the technical standards for accuracy levels as defined by the Indian government, the scale of implementation, the execution of the project and the complexities involved, there is no solution at present that meets the agreement’s mandate. The costs to implement such a system have been estimated at approximately $5 billion.

The Indian equipment security agreement is also weak on the front of privacy protection and data protection. There are no clear policy guidelines in this regard. This is because the new equipment security agreement of India requires telecom operators to maintain location information up to accuracy of 50 meters for customers specified by security agencies of India commencing 1st June 2012, and on all customers, irrespective of whether they are the subject of legal intercept or not from June 2014.

Of course, LBS have many benefits for mobile consumers as well but these befits are far lesser as compared to privacy losses, telemarketing vices, spam communications and information misuses. We need a good and effective national telecom policy of India 2011 that can incorporate all these issue.

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