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Mumbai cops want 4G rollout blocked sans safeguards

22 December 2015

The Mumbai police have written to the Maharashtra government and to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) asking them to block the rollout of the 4G services unless adequate safeguards are put in place.

The cops in Mumbai are worried over the misuse of 4G services by criminals, specially organised gangsters and terrorist elements, according to an Economic Times report.

The Mumbai Police in its letter written in November has asked the DoT and state government not to permit any rollout of 4G services by telecom companies unless the companies incorporate systems that would enable the cops to listen in or track those using the services.

"While the telecom companies have begun rolling out 4G services, the parameters for regulation have not been fixed. Currently the 4G network could be misused by underworld elements and terrorists; we want the service providers to provide in built systems to ensure that our work in catching criminals is not hampered." a top Mumbai police official was quoted as saying.

 The official said that in the letter they have sent in a list to the state and the DoT that the telecom companies need to install in their systems.

"This list has measures that the telecom companies need to take to address our concerns. We have asked that until these steps are not incorporated the state as well as the DoT shouldn't permit any rollout of 4G service in the state." said the police officer.

He added, "With the advent of 4G we believe a substantial number of people would be communicating through Whatsapp, Skype and other Over The Top (OTT) services.'' He refused to reveal what were the exact safeguards that the cops wanted.

Former chief technology officer of the National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID( and founder and managing director of TelecomOne, Major T T Thomas said what the Mumbai police is worried about is the difficulty in tracking voice calls and messages made over Voice over Long Term Evolution (VoLTE) channels in 4G services in real time

"4G services use data packets and it is difficult to intercept calls or messages in data packets made over OTT applications due to the proprietary encryption done by the applications. All you would know is that A is calling B but you wouldn't know what is being said or passed over. service providers would hand over the raw data but without the decryption keys it means nothing, " said Thomas.

The solution, according to Thomas, which is what the Mumbai police also would be demanding, is the ability to intercept calls and messages. Thomas also said that OTT apps like WhatsApp, Skype and Viber, to name a few popular apps, would have to give their encryption keys to the government, like Blackberry did some time back, so that they could be tracked in real time - else law enforcement agencies will always be many steps behind unlawful elements

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