Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has sought clarifications on the upcoming Centre for Communication Security Research and Monitoring (CCSRM) that is being set up to help security agencies intercept mobile phone calls, analyse billing records and monitor internet traffic.
The prime minister has seen the proposal on CCSRM that has been put up before the cabinet for clearance, and has asked for clarifications on how this facility will work, on whether it will duplicate the work of law enforcement agencies, and the laws that require to be changed before this can be implemented, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a communication to different ministries.
The PMO also sent out similar letters to law enforcement agencies seeking their views and these communications were reviewed by ET.
The Union cabinet, while raising the foreign shareholding limit in telecom to 74% in March 2007, had asked the telecom ministry to set up the Centre for Communication Security Research and Monitoring as an umbrella platform for interception and monitoring all types of communications. The telecom department then proposed that the CCSRM consist of a centralised monitoring system and planning for the same had begun in 2007 and the project was put on fast track after the Mumbai attacks, where terrorists received orders via VoIP (internet telephony) phones.
ET had first reported in August 2010 that the ministries of defence, law, finance, home, telecommunications and IT had jointly begun testing the Centralised Monitoring System (CMS) to monitor wireless and fixed line, satellite, internet, e-mails and voice over internet protocol (VoIP) calls – and gather intelligence inputs. But this platform cannot be implemented across the country without Cabinet approval. Besides, existing laws will also have to be amended to allow centralised tapping provision.
The Cabinet note says that CMS will be an autonomous body headed by a chief executive, and adds that a small group of top officials, which include the cabinet secretary, home secretary, national security advisor and representative from the defence ministry, will jointly oversee the functioning of this monitoring system.
Earlier this year, the prime minister had asked cabinet secretary K M Chandrasekhar to rework phone tapping rules to ensure tighter oversight and a clear chain of custody for intercepted records and need-based information sharing within agencies. Following Chandrasekhar’s recommendations, the PMO tasked an inter-ministerial group comprising home, defence, telecom and personnel secretaries, apart from Intelligence Bureau director and representatives from the tax department, to come up with new rules that will eliminate loopholes in the existing norms. This panel, in its report to the PMO, had recommended that phone tapping requests by the Enforcement Directorate and Directorate for Revenue Intelligence should be vetted by senior officials before they land at the Union Home Secretary’s desk for authorisation.
The phone tapping issue had taken centre stage in the wake of leaking of tapped conversations between corporate lobbyist Niira Radia and her industrialist clients and senior journalists. The leaks shocked corporate India, invite adverse reactions from Opposition parties and Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata even approached the Supreme Court alleging violation of his right to privacy through leakage of his tapped conversations with Niira Radia. The government then assured the Supreme Court that the Centre was taking steps to address this issue.
The CMS is modelled on similar setups in several Western countries. For instance, in the US, the national security agency monitors all communication traffic while in the UK, this is undertaken by the government communications headquarters. Economic Times