Today, various law enforcement agencies are tapping almost 10,000 phones across India, while over 1,000 e-mail accounts are under the scanner, after clearance from the Union Home Secretary.
According to an internal note, the committee, formed following orders from the Supreme Court to review orders passed by the Home Secretary for interception of calls and e-mails under the Indian Telegraph Act, said 10,648 orders had been passed for interception of phones and e-mails in August this year.
The three-member committee, which includes Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth, Telecom Secretary R. Chandrasekhar and Legal Affairs Secretary B.A. Agrawal, noted that “4,360 orders were for fresh telephone interception.”
“Further, 5,729 orders were for continuation of existing interception orders for both telephone and e-mail.”
The committee found that as many as 559 fresh sanction orders were taken for interception of e-mail accounts, while 869 orders were passed in respect of overseas phones and 315 orders under Rule 419 A (of the Indian Telegraph Act that related to interception in emergency cases).
IB on top
In August this year, the maximum number of phones were being tapped by the Intelligence Bureau (5,966) of which 2,135 were fresh interceptions, while 3,831 were in continuation. Similarly, the State Intelligence units were tapping 1,104 phones (577 fresh and 527 in continuation) followed by the Andhra Pradesh Police with 863 phone interceptions (399 fresh and 464 in continuation) and the Delhi Police with 757 phones (738 fresh and 19 in continuation).
Among the other central agencies — the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) were tapping 519 phones in August, while the Narcotics Control Bureau had 165 under surveillance. Interestingly, the Central Bureau of Investigation had just 39 phones under surveillance while the National Investigation Agency was tapping just 8 lines.
In the case of e-mails, the IB was snooping on 1,043 IDs in August — 460 under fresh sanction and 583 in continuation, while the State Intelligence units were tracking 136 (94 fresh and 42 in continuation); the DRI took permission from the Union Home Secretary to track 5 accounts.
Notably, to avoid any leaks, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has developed capabilities to intercept phones without keeping telephone operators in the loop.
Called the “Central Monitoring System”, its trials are currently on and the system is likely to be in place early next year.
Skirting service providers
Alarmed by the leak in the phone tapping case of corporate lobbyist Niira Radia, the Centre at the highest level decided to set up a CMS to assist intelligence and security agencies to tap calls without the interference of telecom service providers.
Rs. 170-crore project
Subsequently, the DoT’s Telecom Enforcement, Resource and Monitoring (TREM) Cell, along with the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DoT) was asked to develop the project for which Rs.170 crore was earmarked.
Keywords: Phone tapping, Home Secretary clearance, Telecom Enforcement, Resource and Monitoring Cell, TREM Cell, telephone interception, espionage technologies, spying on citizens, surveillance, communications monitoring, Central Monitoring System