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Signals across the border

Mobile network signals can breach national security and this issue must be taken up during bilateral discussions.

india Updated: Dec 08, 2006 16:59 IST

Stray mobile network signals that can breach national security have become such a bugbear along the India-Bangladesh border that Intelligence agencies have recommended to the government that the issue be taken up during bilateral and regional discussions.

Separate recommendations to this effect were recently submitted by the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing who are concerned that stray mobile signals from Bangladeshi provider Grameen Phone on the India–Bangladesh border are being misused to serve terrorist interests.

Both agencies have suggested to the government that as mobile networks in the south Asian region grow, the problem will only magnify and hence must become an inherent part of discussions with other nations, particularly those that share borders with India.

Just this month, the government directed Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) to weaken its signal along the Indo-Bangladesh border to ensure that signals from the Indian mobile provider do not spill over into Bangladesh. New Delhi will also be making a formal request to Dhaka for a similar order to be issued by the Bangladeshi government to its mobile service providers to prevent them from spilling over into Indian territory.

Until that happens, jammer devices have been activated within a one kilometre deep range of the border from the India side spanning the entire 4,095 km long border between the two nations.

The spill over of cellular phone signals poses a Catch 22 problem for Indian security agencies. The easy availability of Bangladeshi cellular phone signals in Tripura, Assam, Meghalaya and sometimes West Bengal means that agencies cannot monitor communications by suspected militants.

Competing cellular service providers do have a solution for situations when a rival’s signals spill over into their territory. They tweak up their own signals to ensure that they do not lose customers to the rival. This, however, is not so simple in practise when the territory in question is a porous border rife with insurgent activity in some parts.

If BSNL strengthens its own signals to spill over into Bangladesh – as has been done covertly in the past – militants on the other side of the border switch to using BSNL sim cards and make local calls to Indian territory.

The only solution to the problem is strict self-governance by mobile service providers themselves. This, however, is something India cannot enforce across an international border. Hence, the recommendation that while jammers can serve as a stopgap measure, it is time for the Ministry of External Affairs to start making network connectivity across borders a part of bilateral discussions.