British authorities are initiating an inquiry into data theft and the level of data security in Indian call centres after Channel 4 broadcast a programme showing how customer information was available for sale.
The programme, "Dispatches", was shown on Thursday, and depicted middlemen handing over thousands of customer information records in exchange of cash between $15 and $55. The incident, however, is unlikely to adversely affect outsourcing by British companies to India.
In a statement, David Smith, deputy information commissioner, said: "It appears that some mobile phone companies' call centres in India are being targeted by criminals intent on unlawfully obtaining British citizens' financial records and this will be the focus of our investigation.
"We are concerned by any breaches of security particularly if they involve confidential banking details. If firms use an outsourced call centre, they are required to ensure security is adequate. If they do not, a company can be ordered to stop processing personal information outside Britain."
He said his investigation team would engage with Indian stakeholders such as the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM).
The programme showed middlemen in Delhi, Hyderabad and Kolkata offering personal data of British clients to journalists posing as entrepreneurs. The programme did not reveal the names of the BPOs where security procedures were reportedly breached.
Speaking at a book release function at the Nehru Centre on Friday evening, prominent industrialist Lord Swraj Paul refuted suggestions that there was hostility in Britain to outsourcing work to India.
He said: "The Indian outsourcing industry is doing very well in Britain and there is no hostility against it. In Britain, we are very happy about Indian call centres. They have benefited British companies very much."
However, speaking at the function, British author Mark Kobayashi-Hillary said, "off-shoring personal data to India is a time-bomb waiting to explode", but went on to pay tributes to the Indian call centre industry.
He said: "India is far ahead of us in planning how to operate a service industry with hundreds of thousands of employees accessing personal data on customers. We should start listening to their security ideas before the next major data breach takes place on these shores."