India Might Tap Phones, Records To Stop Wildlife Poachers

Wildlife Authorities Turn To More Technolgy

It’s not just animals that foresters want to track. With poachers using high-tech equipment to track and kill endangered elephants, rhinos and tigers, the Madhya Pradesh forest department also wants to go high-tech to catch the killers and the buyers of illegal wildlife pelts and parts.

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The department has asked the state to allow them to tap, intercept calls and access call records – an unprecedented step by an organization, which operates in areas where connectivity is an issue.

The forest department had used and enclosed copies of call data records (CDRs) and subscribers detailed records (SDRs) in some cases to prove charges against poachers. Currently, the department has to depend on police to get these records as it does not have direct powers to ask telecom firms or others for CDRs.

“We want power to intercept or get access telephone CDRs, SDRs of suspects for cases pertaining to wildlife poaching and trading,” – said Narendra Kumar, principal chief conservator of forest (PCCF), wildlife.

An application for the same has been sent to state government, he said. The forest department has also sought intervention of National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) for the same.

The necessity for securing ‘rights’ to snoop on or record telephonic conversations of those suspected to be engaged in crimes was felt by the state forest officials after the recent arrest of five MP- based poachers by local crime branch (LCB) of Nagpur police.

In the absence of these rights, the forest department finds it difficult to deal with these crimes while the department often seems to be reluctant to take wildlife offences on priority, said wildlife activist Ajay Dubey. “By the time, they get required information, suspects disappear,” he said.

However the police officers claim that the forest department cannot be given the powers to intercept calls, avail CDRs, or even track mobile locations without amendments in the Indian Telegraph Rules, 1951. They have to go via nodal officers designated for the purpose.

“We CDRs of suspects during investigation to establish links between poachers and traders who might have had conversations among themselves before or after the incidents and, prevent trading or other poaching activities in the forest,” said the PCCF. Information being routed through other agencies may delay the probe and consequently affect the investigation process, he added.

Currently, even for a CDR, a senior forest officer of the rank of DFO, PCCF or CCF has to approach SP in concerned district and he forwards application to other competent agencies for the same.

“We sometime get the CDRs instantly but often takes a minimum of 24 hours – it all depends on personal relationship between the our officer with the SP,” said a forest officer wishing anonymity.

The phone-tapping powers are restricted to only to nine agencies in India, including CBI and the I-T department. The police rely on a provision in the Code of Criminal Procedure to requisition CDRs from telecom operators.


About Gary Chandler

Public affairs and sustainability consultant. Founder of Crossbow Communications. Follow him on Twitter @Gary_Chandler
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