They have been told to address all security-related concerns within 6 months

Though there is still no clear-cut solution in sight for intercepting video-calls, the Union government is learnt to have given a go-ahead to mobile operators to roll out 3G services with a condition that they put a mechanism in place within six months of the launch to help security agencies monitor hi-end mobile services, particularly video-calls.

After discussing the issue, Home Secretary Gopal K. Pillai and Telecom Secretary R. Chandrashekhar have reportedly decided to give conditional clearance for the launch of 3G services by mobile operators after getting assurance from the telecom operators that they would address all security-related concerns of the law enforcement agencies within six months of the launch of the services.

The issue had come to light after the Home Ministry and the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) objected to the launch of 3G services by two leading private telecom players — the Reliance Communications and Tata Teleservices — a few weeks ago, saying that there was no facility for real-time monitoring of video calls.

The government not only asked these two service providers to stop video-call facility, but also directed other operators ready for the 3G roll-out to find solutions to the security-related issues before going ahead with their launch plans. This caused concern in the telecom industry, with operators accusing the government of not allowing a level-playing field as the two government-owned operators — the BSNL and the MTNL – were already offering 3G services for the last several months.

However, the DoT and the Home Ministry did not relent and asked the private operators to address the security issue fearing that could be misused by anti-national elements.

The law enforcement agencies pointed out that contents of video-calls get displayed only after five minutes of the completion of calls, while they wanted interception on real-time basis.

During the demonstration given by the two private mobile providers to the law enforcement agencies, it came to light that long duration video-calls, both incoming and outgoing, could not be intercepted. This prompted security agencies to ask for decoders for real-time interception of such calls, to which the operators have agreed to provide a solution within next six months.

“The telecom industry is concerned as the government is still to a get a solution from Canada-based Research In Motion (RIM) for intercepting its BlackBerry data services. The government has given the RIM time till January 31, 2011 after which it could be asked to stop its two popular data services that is in encrypted format and cannot be deciphered by law enforcement agencies. Under such circumstances, decision to allow conditional launch of 3G services will leave the industry as well as consumers nervous,” said a senior functionary of a private telecom firm.

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