Telecom cos offer security agencies access to 3G in 6 months

Home Secretary Gopal K Pillai and Secretary, Department of Telecommunication, R Chandrashekhar discussed the issue yesterday and are likely to accept the proposal of the operators, official sources said here today.

3G mobile services mainly include voice call, video calls and data services. In the data services, operators are claiming to offer high-speed internet service but are required to offer lawful monitoring facility to the security agencies.

The Department of Telecom (DoT) and central security agencies have already made it clear to the industry officials that unless they put in place the interception facility for security agencies, they would stop roll out of 3G services.

The industry has, however, cried foul saying the two state owned telecom PSUs -- BSNL and MTNL -- have been offering 3G services since the last two years and these issues were prevalent then also but they were never asked to stop.

"We are only asking for a level playing field with the telecom PSUs," a senior official of mobile industry said.

In fact, last week the DoT had sent a letter to both Tata Teleservices and RCom asking them not to launch 3G services on commercial basis till they demonstrate lawful interception facilities.

The letter had pointed about that shortcomings in interception facilities of video calling on 3G services for the agencies need to be addressed before their launch.

According to an exhaustive note sent by the Union Home Ministry to the DoT, a demonstration was organised by Reliance, Tata Teleservices and Bharti during which the law enforcement agencies pointed out that online delivery of video call intercepts "in real time" could not be carried out by any of the telecom operators.

The contents of such calls were displayed only after five minutes of the completion of these calls as against the requirement of the agencies which want such details and interceptions on real-time basis, official sources said.

During the demonstration carried out by these telecom service providers, it came to light that long duration video calls, both incoming and outgoing, could not be intercepted, official sources said.

"Outgoing and incoming video calls after eight minutes could not be intercepted and displayed," they said.

The service providers are pushing the contents of the calls in raw format to the server of the agencies, which require use of decoders to view and listen to them, the sources said.
The security agencies pointed out that if interception is done on a 3G handset, only noise is heard as indication of video call.

"A conference call is not distinctly labelled. On the other hand, it is displayed as a two different outgoing calls," the note said, adding the service providers should be directed to make provisions for proper tagging.

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