India's monitoring system to pilot in April

The Central Monitoring System, which intercepts phone and Internet data, will commence its pilot trial next month in a limited manner, observing a set of strict privacy guidelines and bypassing input from telcos.

The Central Monitoring System will commence its pilot trial in April, and be fully operational in August 2014.

India's Central Monitoring System (CMS), a phone and Internet data tapping mechanism, is set to be operational in a limited manner from April.

According to The Times of India on Thursday, the system, once fully implemented, will remove all manual intervention during tapping exercises and reduce the risk of the leakage. The entire technical paraphernalia including software will be installed by August 2014, but the pilot run will commence next month, where the system is expected to be operational in a limited manner.

The CMS was conceived last December after India's Income Tax Department taped the phone conversations of Niira Radia, a politicial lobbyist, with several senior journalists, politicians, and corporate houses over 300 days between 2008 and 2009. The CMS, which costs approximately 4 billion rupees (US$73 million) to build, will be linked to the Telephone Call Interception System (TCIS) setup to monitor voice calls, SMS and MMS, GPRS, Fax Communications on landlines, CDMA, GSM and 3G networks, and video calls.

The phone cum Internet data tapping system's main hub will be headquartered in the Indian capital New Delhi, and  have direct electronic provisioning of target telephone numbers by government agencies. Other than its main New Delhi base, the system will have four hi-tech regional hubs.

Indian agencies authorized to access this system for the enforcement of security purposes include India's Intelligence Bureau, Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), National Investigation Agency (NIA), Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), Narcotics Control Bureau, and the Enforcement Directorate (ED).

"Once fully operational, all phone taps will be put on auto surveillance mode," an unnamed official said in the report. "Even the records will be destroyed automatically after a fixed period of time so that it may not be misused by compromising privacy of individuals."

According to the report, under government guidelines framed after Radia's tapes were leaked, all agencies and the state police are expected to destroy the records within specified time periods once they serve the purpose of law enforcers.

The central agencies also have to be granted permission by India's Union home secretary before putting phone or data usage of any individual under surveillance, while the state police have to get the sanction of the respective principal secretary.

No dependence on telcos

Although law enforcers and intelligence agencies will have to granted permission before putting phone numbers on surveillance, they will not need to depend on private telcos for the exercise.

The unnamed official said in the report: "These will keep the [telcos] out of the loop of the tapping mechanism to bring complete secrecy in tapping exercises. All government agencies authorized to tap phones will get instant access to tapping under the roof."

In October 2012, India's National Investigation Agency (NIA) also sent a formal request to the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) to install the CMS without help from telcos .