Flood of SIM card import rings alarm bells

China is one of the main countries where mobile phones and SIM cards are manufactured and exported. The Centre had earlier made it mandatory for all foreign telecom companies supplying equipment to Indian firms to seek clearance from the Department of
Telecommunication (DoT).

This happened after some MPs raised their concern in Parliament that Chinese telecom equipment supplying companies may block Indian communication network “using spy software” during an emergency. All major Chinese telecom companies, including ZTE technologies and Huawei Technologies, dismissed this apprehension and extended their consent to the security sanitisation and other conditions.

The ministry has now asked the DoT to give its assessment on the possibility of banning imported SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) and manufacturing it domestically. There is also a suggestion that a few licensed Indian telecom companies be given permission to import SIM cards. There are an estimated 70 crore mobile users in the country with 25 lakh SIM cards sold on a daily basis.

The Home ministry’s communication to the DoT hints at its ongoing efforts to plug all the possible loopholes in the sector which is so crucial to internal security. It is now mandatory for private telecom companies to obtain the DoT clearance before they import telecom equipment. Telecom companies have to reveal software code of all telecom equipment to the DoT.

Sources said SIM cards could be technologically manipulated in many ways — could always give location of the subscriber — and thus prove to be “a great give-away.”  All private mobile phone service providers have already been asked by the Home ministry to give access to intelligence agencies for “legal monitoring” of communication.

The maker of Canadian-based Blackberry mobile phone — Research in Motion (RIM) — has also assured the Home ministry that it would provide a “final solution” to legal interception to its BlackBerry Messenger services by January 31, 2011.

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