Govt turns down Sebi proposal on access to phone call records

Govt turns down Sebi proposal on access to phone call records
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First Published: Thu, May 14 2009. 01 15 AM IST
Updated: Thu, May 14 2009. 01 06 PM IST
New Delhi: A request by the Securities and Exchange Board of India, or Sebi, for permission to be included in the list of security agencies with access to the call data records of phone firms has been turned down by the government.
The ministry of home affairs feels access to transcripts is a sensitive matter and the number of agencies that can directly access them should be restricted, according to a department of telecommunications (DoT), note reviewed by Mint.
Currently, call records can be accessed only by services such as the police, Central Bureau of Investigation, economic offences wing, Intelligence Bureau and Enforcement Directorate.
Sebi had asked permission to be included in the list of security agencies last January in a bid to reduce the time taken in its investigations.
Currently, if it needs transcripts, it has to use the police and follow up with the judiciary. The ministry of finance, the parent overseeing Sebi, had earlier endorsed the stock regulator’s request.
But a ministry official, seeking anonymity, said financial sector regulators should continue to use the existing procedure.
“The government has a number of organizations that have direct access to the call records but all cannot be allowed access. The call records are private information that need to be kept restricted,” a DoT official said on condition of anonymity.
A senior official from Sebi declined comment.
In a recent case involving forged Sebi letters sent to listed entertainment firm Pyramid Saimira Theatre Ltd, Sebi accessed phone records for its investigation and decided to debar one of the large investors of the company for manipulating the stock price.
Licence agreements that govern phone firms in India mandate that they keep records of all calls made on their networks and have to allow security agencies access to these records.
“It (would have been) too much power to give to Sebi. They can be allowed access to specific records but giving them general omnibus permission is not feasible,” said C.S. Vaidyanathan, a senior advocate practising in the Supreme Court.
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First Published: Thu, May 14 2009. 01 15 AM IST