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Security fears prompt change in DTH rules - Sathish - 07-05-2011

New Delhi: After BlackBerry, GMail, Nokia emails and Skype services, the direct-to-home (DTH) television industry is the latest to come under the glare of security agencies. The government is planning to review and modify licensing conditions for DTH operators after law enforcement agencies and the ministries of home and defence raised security concerns.

What is the security threat in DTH, essentially a mode of viewing television channels in your living room with a portable satellite dish? Technical experts say that theoretically, the DTH infrastructure can be used to secretly pass on encrypted information to anywhere in the satellite footprint. “Security agencies have woken up to this fact. Therefore, the necessary laws are required to gain access to operators providing services in the event of any such need arising in the future,” an expert told FE.

Sources said DTH services could come under the purview of the central monitoring system (CMS) proposed to be set up by the DoT. CMS will be empowered to intercept most forms of electronic communication in the country.

Experts said that all private DTH operators could soon be mandated to store communications sent to subscribers for up to six months. Also, all call data between the subscriber and the operator will have to be stored for up six months. Operators could also be asked to share the financial history of any subscriber on demand from security agencies in public interest. The changes and modifications in the DTH licensing guidelines are expected within next few months, sources said.

Currently, there are no such guidelines in the licensing conditions for the six private DTH operators.

Operators must bear all expenses to modify the infrastructure to comply with the new rules. A senior executive at a leading DTH operator said that according to early estimates, the six operators would have to collectively spend R8-10 crore on this front.

Government sources said that as per new licence conditions, operators will have to share their uplink and downlink facilities for any emergency communication needs of security agencies.

“In the recent Osama bin Laden operation in Pakistan, a secured Ku-band DTH transponder was used to provide a communication link between the forces on ground and the situation room at the White House. Our defence forces too will use Ku-band transponders for audio-video communications during key ground operations,” he said.

Dish TV sources said security and defence agencies have previously approached the company on certain specific matters as well as to understand the capabilities of the DTH system.

Senior executives at DTH operators conceded that there were no guidelines requiring them to share subscribers' personal or financial information. Also, there are no rules on retaining subscribers' call recordings.

Acknowledging the need to overhaul DTH licensing rules, Trai, which is also the broadcast sector regulator, has asked the I&B ministry to incorporate the necessary modifications in licensing conditions which will then need to be vetted by the home and defence ministries.

“The licensor reserves the right to modify these conditions or incorporate new conditions considered necessary in the interest of national security and public interest or for proper provision of Telegraph...The authority recommends that these guidelines may be vetted in consultation with the security agencies of the government and suitably incorporated in the requisite permissions/licences,” Trai told information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry in a recent communication.

Source: FE