Airtel Wants Govt To Pay For Surveillance Costs; Request Sent To Both State Govts & Centre

Airtel said that the union and state governments, as well as law enforcement authorities, should share the cost of surveillance incurred by telecom operators when call interception orders are issued.

Airtel Wants Govt To Pay For Surveillance Costs; Request Sent To Both State Govts & Centre

Sharing The Cost Of Surveillance 

Further, this request was a part of a 16 page regulatory submission in response to a pre-consultation paper on creating a new legislative framework for telecom in India. 

This was revealed by an Entrackr filing through the RTI Act.

According to Airtel, Telecom providers “have been at the forefront of ensuring they comply with the requirements laid down by the law enforcement agencies,”. 

Further adding that other parts of the internet ecosystem like Content Delivery Networks and call center operators don’t have this burden.

Airtel complained this citing a “disproportionate obligation” on the telecom industry.

Adding that “[…] the demands of Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) on NatSec [national security] requirements are increasing and putting a substantial cost burden on the TSPs [telecom service providers],”.

Cost Sharing Mechanism 

Airtel said, “The time has now come for India to put in place a cost-sharing mechanism between TSPs and LEA/user government departments,” giving the example of Australian law, which provides for interception costs to be split between carriers and law enforcement agencies.

Basically, this submission points to increased surveillance.

So far, how many such orders the central and state governments authorize is not clear.

 The Cellular Operators Association of India, a trade body that Airtel is a part of, said that “such demands from LEAs are increasing exponentially,” in a separate filing.

A former Director General of the COAI, Rajan Mathews said that the call interception in itself is largely automated; “[w]hile permissions are still paper-oriented, and that’s appropriate, the enforcement is now in the Central Monitoring System, started by the government. All we’re obligated to do is provide connectivity from our network to the CMS,” in an interview.

Illegal SIM Boxes – Non-bailable and Cognizable Offense

On the topic of internet shutdowns, Airtel said that requests for turning off mobile data from law enforcement should be routed through a senior official in the union government.

Further adding, “Since Telegraph is a Union subject [in the Constitution], we believe that only [the] Central government should be the governing authority in this regard, unless the order to shut services is through the High Court or a similar higher authority,”.

According to Airtel, possessing and using illegal SIM boxes and repeaters should be a “non-bailable and cognizable offense,” and vandalism targeting telecom equipment.

Besides this, Airtel recommendations  include to hold a “wider consultation amongst stakeholders on creation of digital infrastructure,” “Enshrine Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) in the [new telecom] act,” and “recover only administrative cost” from regulatory levies. Airtel also suggested that DTH television be incorporated under the telecom framework.

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