By Bappa Majumdar
India is considering a new law allowing strict checking of all imported telecommunications equipment, the latest move to plug security holes after last year's Mumbai attacks.
Officials said on Tuesday the government also wants to set up a telecoms equipment testing center, where all imported gadgets and technology sold by private operators could be first tested to ensure they do not compromise India's security.
"Discussions have been held with telecom operators on the security aspects," said Bharti Vaid, telecoms ministry spokeswoman.
She said the complex nature of the negotiations with multiple telecom companies and trading issues means it could take some time before the stage is set for the new legislation.
Already, the government has asked the heads of India's top mobile companies to issue self-regulatory guidelines in sourcing telecoms equipment from abroad.
Operators including Bharti Airtel, Reliance Communications, Vodafone and Idea have been asked to come out with guidelines on sourcing equipment, Indian newspapers said last week.
Equipment suppliers must register with the Department of Telecommunications, allow monitoring and checking by security officials and get a clearance from the home ministry, said a home ministry official, who could not be identified because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
The government has embarked on an overhaul of its security systems after Islamist militants killed 166 people in Mumbai last November.
The militants used a satellite phone while traveling to Mumbai by sea and kept in touch with their handlers in Pakistan on mobile phones and Internet telephones.
Police intelligence bureau officials have also suggested that only Indians head all top telecom company posts to reduce the threat of phone calls being intercepted or monitored, officials said.
As part of the security drive, the government has put restrictions on state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd placing equipment orders with Chinese vendors, officials said.
A decision on banning Chinese telecom equipment altogether is now pending.
The National Security Council also wants to arm the government with powers to cancel or suspend foreign direct investments that it may see as linked to militant groups and stop acquisitions that are viewed as against New Delhi's interest.
The council in its report last week said it wants to scrutinize FDI particularly from countries such as China, Hong Kong, Afghanistan, North Korea, Mauritius and the Cayman Islands before being approved.