Responding to the surveillance concerns raised due to increase in requests for call data records (CDR) of mobile subscribers, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) on Wednesday claimed the call data requests were aimed to address poor network connectivity issues. The DoT said that it had developed an in-house software tool that would “analyse big data and accurately ascertain call drops in any area.” The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) that originally complained about the rise in CDR requests in a letter sent to the DoT secretary dated February 12 released a separate statement following the response received by the department to reflect its satisfaction with the authoritative move.
In a statement to the media, the DoT argued that the intent behind requesting CDRs was to identify the problem of inferior calling experience in India and not to violate “privacy of any subscriber.” The department noted that it had been endeavouring to address “numerous complaints” regarding “call drops, echo, cross connections, incomplete or poor calling experience” in coordination with telcos.
“For this purpose, total data of calls made during any particular time period from the identified cell phone tower locations from where the complaints are received is collected to enable analysis,” the statement reads.
The DoT also mentioned that the data didn’t contain names of either the maker or receiver of calls and “only those calls made by a subscriber who enters a given coverage area of the identified cell tower or calls drop/ details of calls received or made by such subscriber are collected.” However, the department didn’t specify any particular details about the coverage areas it considered for the analysis. It is also unclear how the data would help resolve the issues that are primarily caused by network congestion that is a direct result of mobile tower shortage in the country.
“Only if any call is terminated within 30 seconds and the same number is again dialled immediately, such calls are added to arrive at the final figure of call drops,” the DoT said.
The statement also highlighted that the DoT is empowered under the Rule 419 of the Indian Telegraph Rules 1951 to access anonymous data for improving network quality. Further, the department stated that access to call drop data could only be approved by “very senior officers”. This, however, doesn’t define whether Licensed Service Area (LSA) units can obtain the data upon requesting telcos — the issue that was raised in the original complaint letter sent by the COAI to the DoT secretary last month.
The COAI, in its statement supporting DoT’s move, said that it had cooperated with the department to source the information sought to improve network quality and address call drops.
“The TSPs are keen to point out that we work in close cooperation with the DoT on, among other things, issues pertaining to network quality especially on issues of RoW which have been plaguing the industry for many years,” said COAI Director General Rajan S Mathews in the statement.
Earlier, Mathews in the letter sent to the DoT secretary had mentioned that since the local units of the department sought to obtain call record details of mobile subscribers on a regular basis, it contravened the given instructions. The letter had also highlighted Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir, Kerala and Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, and Punjab as some of the key circles from where the records had mainly been requested. Furthermore, the letter had pointed out that the local units had sought additional details on an ad-hoc basis.