In the last six months, the Gujarat police obtained call detail records (CDRs) of as many as 93,000 mobile phone numbers, apparently without the knowledge of the state police chief.
Shocked at the scale of the unrestricted surveillance, state director general of police Amitabh Pathak issued a circular earlier this week, stating only superintendent of police-level officers and above could obtain CDRs from mobile service providers.
Earlier, any police inspector could seek CDRs of any person and reportedly get them from private mobile service providers without stating the reason or providing mandatory documents such as the first information report (FIR) against the person.
“The number (93,000) is certainly high, considering that our crime rate is relatively less than in other states,” Pathak said on Tuesday. “We don’t want to encroach on the privacy of any citizen.”
Insiders in the state police said he had issued the circular after seeking feedback from mobile service providers.
What’s more, the insiders added Pathak had suffered similar prying into his call records two years ago when he was commissioner of police of Ahmedabad. A senior police officer is said to have obtained Pathak’s CDRs during this phase.
Sources in the police department were forthcoming about rampant electronic snooping in Gujarat and blamed it on political masters.
“CDRs of politicians, top bureaucrats, police officials and corporate executives were accessed along with those of alleged criminals,” said a police official privy to the practice.
“It is an open secret… leaders from the ruling as well as opposition parties are put under electronic surveillance in Gujarat.”
Political opponents of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party led by chief minister Narendra Modi have long alleged their mobile phones are routinely tapped by certain agencies of the state police.
Some handle the prying with dry wit. “My phone is under surveillance so be careful while talking,” is what a former minister of the Modi government says these days when he receives a call.
The Supreme Court-appointed SIT, which probed cases of massacre of Muslims, had stated in a report that the state intelligence bureau had put Haren Pandya’s mobile number under surveillance after the 2002 riots.
Pandya, former Gujarat minister of state for home, had accused the Modi administration of allowing the 2002 anti-minority riots. He was murdered on March 26, 2003.
In 2004, former junior home minister Gordhan Zadaphia had said in the assembly his mobile was put under surveillance at the behest of the chief minister’s office.
Employees of private mobile service providers admitted on condition of anonymity that they obliged police officials seeking CDRs, without asking for documents.
“Normally, if the CDR of any person is sought, the police must state the reasons and also provide a copy of the case or FIR against the person. But this is hardly in practice,” an executive of a private mobile service provider said. “We have to cooperate with the police.”
Such ready cooperation by private companies, many suspect, is the reason why the Modi administration replaced Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) in 2006-07 as the official service provider for the state’s bureaucracy.
“We never provide CDRs without a letter from a police official, not below the rank of SP, and a copy of the FIR,” a senior BSNL official said, adding police officials often sought CDRs without following procedure.
On the new circular, additional chief secretary (home) SK Nanda said, “We have rectified the rules to prevent potential misuse.”