Government To Play Big Brother With Our Mobile Phones: What About Privacy?

The Indian Government has indicated that it plans to track the locations of all mobile phone users in the coming years. The Government unveiled a new Telecom policy yesterday which specifies that tracking user’s location is a high priority task. As per the amendments made to the old policy, operators are supposed to comply with the Government’s demands to provide the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) with location data on its users starting May 31st.

Initially, real time location stats will be provided by the operators only for the numbers specified by the Government. According the plan, operators will have to supply all the user’s location details in 3 years.

The India Express has obtained documents that outline the details of this planned roll-out. The location data may have a margin of error at first but they are expecting that buy 2013, 60% of the calls placed in urban areas will be accurately tracked within 100 metres of a cell tower. This will increase by 2014 to 75% in urban areas and 50% in sub-urban and rural areas.

In 2015, they expect an accuracy of 95% in cities and 60% in rural areas within 300 metres from a cell tower.

Any instance of a breach in security will result in a hefty Rs. 50 crore fine to the operator. Moreover, the Government can also initiate criminal proceedings against offending operators. The stepping up of this kind of surveillance is linked with DoT setting up a centralized monitoring system (CMS) which, according to them can help us track activities of of suspected people or establish proof of presence and verifying alibis.

Sachin Pilot, MoS, Communications and IT, told Parliament  that, “In the existing system, secrecy can be easily compromised due to manual intervention while in CMS these functions will be performed on secured electronic links.”

This raises one important question of privacy of an individual. Yes, agreed that the country’s security is important but it shouldn’t come at the cost of our right to privacy. Last year, there were scams all over the place in this country. The corruption levels have not gone down yet. What guarantee is there that someone in the upper echelons of power won’t misuse such sensitive and private data for their own benefit?

The first thing the Government should tackle is stepping down corruption and after we some results from that, then we are sure that we will all be ‘somewhat’ comfortable giving out our location data. But you know what? Calls and SMS are already being made redundant by online communication methods via our mobile phones. If the data speeds increase in this country soon with the advent of 4G technologies, then we don’t think people will use their mobile phones to make calls which will make this surveillance a futile exercise, unless they are also planning to track our standard ‘I am here’ signal to the cell tower in addition to call signals.

Do you think this new policy change will result in bad news for us, mobile phone users? Share your thoughts with us.

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