Govt sets norms for lawful interception and monitoring

Over a year after the leak of the Niira Radia tapes, the government has put in place a strict regime for what is now being described as LIM (Lawful Interception and Monitoring) with the Home Ministry last week clearing a detailed Standing Operating Procedure (SOP).

As reported by The Indian Express earlier, a committee, headed by former Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar, had recommended that after the Radia fiasco the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) be taken off the interception list. In the draft SOP circulated on January 17, the CBDT was missing from the list of agencies which can lawfully intercept. But the agency is back in the final list of nine Central agencies cleared in the meeting chaired by the Home Secretary last week.

The Central Economic Intelligence Bureau (CEIB) has been taken off the list. The country's external intelligence unit, the Research and Analysis Wing, has now been included in the agencies along with others like the Intelligence Bureau, the CBI, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and the Narcotics Control Bureau.

The Government has evolved a procedure for lawful interception and annexed with the SOP the list of paperwork required for a range of steps: from rejecting a request from a security agency because of lack of proper authentication to requesting an extension of interception maximum 180 days and ordering interception in an emergency situation. What can be accessed include records of voice, SMSs, GPRS data; details of subscriber's application and recharge history and CDR (call detail record).

All service providers have been asked to maintain adequate internal security checks to ensure secrecy. The warning is stern: "Service providers are responsible for the actions of their employees also. In case of established violation of licence conditions pertaining to maintenance of secrecy and confidentiality of information and unauthorized interception of communication, action shall be taken against the service provider and this shall include not only fine but also suspension or revocation of their licences.''

There is a stipulation for service providers to destroy all records exactly after two months of discontinuance of interception. Also, as per the SOP, all shredding of records should be done in an enclosed room. "Other employees should not be made aware and exposed to this activity in whatsoever manner,'' the SOP says.

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