OffStumped For All Things Right of Center, Bringing a Right of Centre Reality Check to Indian Politics, News Media Reporting and Opinion now in Hindi अब आप के लिये हिंदी मे.

Well the star attraction at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit it appears was not the lame duck Manmohan Singh or the apologetic Sonia Gandhi but a rather combative Narendra Modi. The CNN-IBN reports

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi on Friday refused to take blame for the riots in his state in 2002 and said the people would judge him.

“I have asked people of Gujarat to be the judge on the issue, and there is no greater judge than them,”

More than what Modi did not say about the riots, it is what he said in the context of development that was interesting.

Breaking political stereotypes Modi highlighted how local communities can come together and take responsibility with the right incentives.

He said he believed in Gandhi’s idea of ‘Gram Swarajya’, according to which village-level representatives should be appointed unanimously as elections led to violence and bad blood. Modi said shortly after he became the Chief Minister of Gujarat, 11,000 villages were due for elections and he announced a scheme wherein any village that unanimously chose its leaders would be given a development fund of Rs one lakh.

The media meanwhile continues with its anti-Modi tirade. An issue that has been lingering in the background for a while now is the issue of Phone Call Records from the period of the 2002 riots. An activist NGO Jan Sangarsh Manch lead by one Mukul Sinha has been touting alleged Compact Discs that it claims as “evidence” of “nexus between politicians, policemen and rioters”. The CDs were supposed to have been procured by IPS officer Rahul Sharma.

Pouring cold water on this so called evidence two mobile operators Vodafone and Idea have written to the Godhra inquiry panel (Nanavati Commission )stating that they have not preserved the data of crucial phone records of calls made by mobile owners during the post-Godhra communal riots in Gujarat in 2002.

Now this is important for the NGO and the media will tout this as a conspiracy. Yours truly in his a day job is a Wireless Communications Expert. Having designed and consulted on Cellular Network, Offstumped can claim some knowledge on what call records contain in GSM/GPRS Networks. So here goes.

First off, nowhere the world over, including Europe the birth place of GSM/GPRS are call records, of the kind that the NGO is touting, preserved. In fact in the post 9-11 era on a specific query in Europe on preserving call records to track terrorist activities this is what the GSM Association had to say in its position paper titled “GSME Position on Data Retention Implications for the Mobile Industry” 23rd August 2005.

However, while LEAs have voiced a need for mandatory data retention requirements across the EU, there is still a lack of a clear and in-depth analysis of the benefits and the costs these proposals would have on society and industry, as well as the consequences for citizens and personal integrity.

Any EU-wide data retention obligations must be based on the principle that only data already processed and stored for billing, commercial and any other legitimate purposes be retained. Any requirements that go beyond this will have severe technical and financial implications and result in legal uncertainty for the industry.

So clearly what is retained is that which is processed and stored for billing purposes and not the raw data from the network.

Secondly it is also important to note what possible information the raw data could have contained. Much was made out by the NGOs of the call records to imply that they somehow provided accurate information on the position of the policemen and how they moved away when riots took place. It is important to note that GSM Call Records do not provide any direct information on location. What is however contained in the raw call records is something called the Cell ID. Now before one goes about drawing any inferences about location from Cell ID it is important to understand what the Cell ID means and does not mean.

The Cell ID refers to the strongest signal emitting base station that a give cellphone is communicating with. So at a given point in time any cellphone could be in the vicinity of one or more base stations and it is only signal strength that determines which Cell ID the cell phone latches on to and not location or distance.

Also the Cell sites typically span a radius that runs into a few Kilometres so there is no way to accurately pin point location, let alone draw inferences of the kind the NGO is claiming.

Lastly, this is most important. There is no way in GSM today for the Cell ID to be updated during a call. So if you are in a moving car or jeep and you started a call in Cell location X, and while you were driving if you traversed locations Y and Z, there is no way to establish that from the call records.

So clearly the raw call records cannot be the basis for drawing any kind of conclusive granular inferences on location that can stand up to scrutiny in a court of law. At best one can say a given cell phone was in the vicinity of a cell tower but that could be anywhere in many KMs of radius. Beyond establishing the sequence of conversations between players these phone records will reveal nothing by themselves.

Offstumped Bottomline: As Mr. Modi said, the people of Gujarat will have to be the judge of his record in the assembly elections. While the NGOs try to spin conspiracy theories there is only so much technology that will come to their aid. They will need much more than phone records to establish this alleged nexus.


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