Govt cracks down on use, import of Thuraya satphones

With the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) failing to get the UAE-based Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications Company to block access of its signals over India, the government has stepped in to tighten regulations to ban their import and use.

The latest versions of Thuraya phones are described as the lightest and smallest instruments for satellite communication and, besides being frequently used by militants in Jammu and Kashmir, were also used by the 26/11 attackers.

On March 29, the Union Home Ministry convened a special meeting to discuss the issue of illegal use of Thuraya satellite phones. Instructions have now been issued to the Customs and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) authorities to confiscate any unlicensed satellite phones.

The MHA's review also highlighted the fact that while government officials, mountaineers and corporate houses were permitted to use INMARSAT satellite phones after obtaining licences from the DoT, the use of Thuraya satellite phones was not permitted and was a violation of provisions of the 1885 Indian Telegraph Act.

The minutes of the meeting circulated to intelligence agencies reveal the technical and administrative problems that the government is facing in prohibiting the use of Thuraya satellite phones. The MHA has now told the agencies that "DoT has informed that technically or administratively there is no direct control of DoT on m/s Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications

Company, hence it is not possible to get Thuraya terminal blocked".

Customs and DRI officials, who also attended the meeting, reported that foreigners frequently bring in satellite phones and no declarations are sought by the authorities. Thus the MHA's admission that "there are no clear-cut instructions with the Customs authorities that satellite phones without licence from DoT at ports/ airports are not permitted and liable to be confiscated".

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has now been asked to give "wide publicity" to the guidelines through their missions and to jointly work out a system with DoT, whereby all applications for use of satellite phones in India could be processed at an appropriate level at embassies/ missions abroad.

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