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Issue No.: 550 | April 2013

Phone Tapping and CDRS

Ashok Karnik
back is a lucrative business to collect CDRs of important persons and sell them to interested parties

2.    The revelation that BJP leader Arun Jaitley’s phone records were being accessed illegally exposed a sleaze and caused concern. It was felt that obtaining of the Call Data Records (CDRs) was a small step away from phone tapping. Both are equally unethical and need to be condemned even though the two are wholly different. Phone tapping requires technical expertise and deep access. It is legally permissible only on the authority of the Union Home Secretary and that too by designated organizations like the IB, Enforcement Directorate etc. at the Centre and similar bodies in the States. On the other hand, CDRs are routinely available in cell phone offices and can be legally accessed by officials of the rank of Police Inspector and illegally accessed by just anybody. CDRs are required for routine investigations, just to check who was in contact with a suspect. CDRs show the number called (or calling), duration of talk as well as the location of the phone but not the contents of the talk, unlike telephone taps. It can be used for various purposes from detecting marital infidelity to business dealings to political shenanigans. 

 2.   The Jaitley case revealed that it is a lucrative business to collect CDRs of important persons and sell them to interested parties. These can become embarrassing to the victim as his contacts that may be confidential are exposed to unscrupulous persons. Not only the Government, but almost anybody can acquire this information for a price. CDRs are maintained by telephone companies for billing purposes and it is not difficult to pass on these details to Government agencies as well as unauthorized persons if the price is right. Like telephone tapping, this too is a breach of privacy. The practice of maintaining CDRs cannot be stopped, as it is the administrative need of the telephone companies. However, law can ensure that these records are kept in encrypted form and even when decrypted their disclosure should invite severe penalty. Similarly, instead of empowering Police Inspectors to requisition the CDRs, the power should be entrusted to a higher official like the DCP. We live and learn to deal with modern technology and its pitfalls. 






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The Art of Giving

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