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[liberationtech] Fwd: Police's illegal surveillance of 93, 000 phone numbers in Gujarat

Pranesh Prakash pranesh at
Tue May 28 04:38:00 PDT 2013


"Permalink to India: Gujarat phone snooping sparks privacy storm | Asia
News – Politics, Media, Education")

# India: Gujarat phone snooping sparks privacy storm | Asia News –
Politics, Media, Education

***Revelations this week of police surveillance of 93,000 phone numbers
are the latest in a long line breaches of privacy in Narendra Modi’s

The top cop of India’s ever-contentious state of Gujarat has stirred the 
hornets’ nest by scaling down significantly the capacity of the police 
department to routinely requisition mobile and fixed line phone service 
providers for Call Detail Records (CDRs) of their subscribers without 
ascribing any reason.

[Reports][1] in the [local press][2] have detailed that the Director
General of Police, Amitabh Pathak – appointed to the position in
February this year – had stumbled on to the discomforting fact that,
over the past six months alone, mobile phone companies had handed over
CDRs of almost 100,000 subscribers to police officers at various levels.

Most of these details had been requisitioned without necessary documents 
accompanying the request.

What has added fuel to the controversy is the fact that many of the
phones for which CDRs were scrutinised over the past six months include
those of senior police officers and bureaucrats. The *Hindustan Times*
quoted an executive working for a mobile phone company saying that
thought rules specify that police should provide details of the case or
the First Information Report along with the request. This is rarely done 
with mobile companies playing along to stay on the right side of law 

Gujarat has a track record of monitoring physical movement and snooping
on telephone conversations of political opponents of chief minister
Narendra Modi and other detractors of the state government. While I was
researching on my [biography][4] of Modi, a source told me of his
fascination for the historically recorded spy network of Shivaji, the
17th century Maratha warrior king who waged a relentless battle against
the Mughal Empire.

Shortly after taking charge as chief minister in October 2001, Modi
fine-tuned the intelligence set-up in the state and kept a hawk’s eye on
detractors – more so after the Godhra carnage and the riots that
followed. One such high-profile adversary was Haren Pandya, a one-time
cabinet colleague who was given his marching orders in August 2002.
Those who thought that the matter ended with Pandya’s sacking were
mistaken: he was gunned down in a busy park in Ahmedabad on a morning in 
March 2003 when returning home from his morning walk.

The media reported then that Pandya’s telephone was tapped and that Modi 
knew about Pandya’s interactions in real time. These included a
deposition before the Concerned Citizens Tribunal – an inquiry
instituted by civil society groups.

In the past decade or so there have been repeated calls for greater
transparency regarding surveillance of telephones. Prior to the recent
order of Pathak, the CDRs could be sought by officers as junior as
Inspectors. This gave rise to the view that most of these junior
officers were asking for the details to satisfy political masters. This
apprehension was heightened when it was learnt that the CDRs that were
supplied by phone companies include senior officials.

Though Pathak issued new guidelines regarding requisitioning of CDRs
earlier this week, apprehensions remain regarding the misuse of
provisions. The fresh order says that only officers at the level of
Superintendent (senior most officers in smaller districts or heads of
police districts in bigger cities) could obtain CDRs from mobile service 

India lacks transparent norms regarding tapping of telephones. New Delhi 
is currently gripped with a controversy over tracking the mobile phone 
of senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader, Arun Jaitley. In this case also 
the CDRs were acquired by a very junior police officer.

Details of who ordered the scrutiny of such a large number of phones in
Gujarat are not known. But the disclosure does raise questions about
violation of privacy of citizens in the state as the administration has
not specified reasons behind such large scale snooping.


Pranesh Prakash
Policy Director
Centre for Internet and Society
T: +91 80 40926283 | W:
PGP ID: 0x1D5C5F07 | Twitter: @pranesh_prakash

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