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Surveillance equipment to be moved from ‘open’ to restricted list.
Stung by the growing evidence of unauthorised interception of mobile phone conversations by various investigating agencies as well as private players, the government has decided to move the import of equipment used for this purpose from the "open general licence" list (OGL) to the restricted list.
The move, according to experts, will help the government in ensuring that unauthorised interception of mobile phones by investigating agencies as well as by companies and individuals keeping a watch on their rivals will now come under strict scrutiny.
The Committee of Secretaries headed by the Cabinet Secretary, the country’s senior-most bureaucrat, took this decision this week. Under the new policy, the import of all such equipment will be allowed only after permission is granted by the Home Ministry as well as the Defence Ministry.
A group of officers from the Home Ministry, Defence Ministry, Intelligence Bureau, Department of Telecommunications and the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), a technical intelligence gathering agency of the government, will be formed to work out the modalities for implementing the decision.
This group will first work out a list of equipment which is being used for monitoring calls. This list will have to be finalised within the next ten days so that such equipment is removed from the OGL list and bought under the restricted list. The list will then be handed over to the Commerce Ministry, which deals with such matters, to make the required changes.
The issue of unauthorised interception of mobile phone conversation had come into limelight a few months ago when a series of media reports alleged that NTRO had tapped phones of leading politicians including Sharad Pawar, Digvijay Singh, Nitish Kumar, and Prakash Karat. The furore which followed in Parliament compelled Home Minister P Chidambaram to assure the nation that while the government had not sanctioned phone-tapping on anyone, the ministry would investigate whether or not there was any unauthorised interception.
According to experts, there are over a dozen companies which sell such equipment in the country to the police forces and other investigative agencies of the government. However, there is evidence of the equipment being used by corporations to intercept the calls of their rivals.