How to obtain Call Data Records (CDRs)?

What does the CDR mean?

A Call Data Record (CDR) is a set of information relating to the mobile phone calls, of a mobile user, for a particular period. However, the CDR does not include contents of a telephone conversation or messages exchanged.

This string of information of the CDR includes details such as the name of the subscriber, the details of calls made by this subscriber during a given period, the duration of each call, whether the call terminated normally or abnormally, location of the caller, location of the call recipient, and such other details.

The CDR is available with telecom operators. The record contains critically sensitive information such as Mobile Station International Subscriber Directory Numbers (MSISDNs), International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI), International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI), and location details of mobile subscribers.

Police or Court can obtain CDRs

The CDRs need to be provided to law-enforcement agencies and the courts upon their request or direction, as per the law in force in our country at present.

Rules for obtaining call records were tightened following a row in 2013 over unauthorised access to CDRs of several key politicians.

Under the new guidelines, only an officer of the rank of Superintendent of Police (SP) and above is authorised to seek details from telecom operators. They should inform the District Magistrate (DM), of the CDRs obtained by them every month. The DM should send the details of collection of such data to the Chief Secretary of the State.

Operators to keep CDRs for one year

The Licensing Condition No.39.20 of the Licence Agreement for Unified License stipulates that telecom operators in India have to keep consumer records including CDRs and the details of Internet Protocol (IP) for at least one year for scrutiny by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) for security reasons.

The licensing condition mentioned above states as follows:

39.20 The Licensee shall maintain all commercial records/ Call Detail Record (CDR)/ Exchange Detail Record (EDR)/ IP Detail Record (IPDR) with regard to the communications exchanged on the network. Such records shall be archived for at least one year for scrutiny by the Licensor for security reasons and may be destroyed thereafter unless directed otherwise by the Licensor. Licensor may issue directions /instructions from time to time with respect to CDR/IPDR/EDR”.

The DoT may issue directions/ instructions from time to time with respect to the preserved records, under the above said licensing Condition.

The licenser, in this case, is the DoT. The licence condition goes on to mandate that CDRs be provided by mobile companies to the law enforcement agencies & the courts upon their specific requests or directions, for which there is a well laid-down protocol.

What purposes the CDR can be used?

CDR details can be used for diverse purposes. They can be used for investigation by law enforcement agencies for producing evidence in the court, tracing missing persons, retrieving lost or stolen mobile phones, etc.

The parties to a criminal case can summon such record for defence evidence, or to cross-examine any witness, with the aid of the court where proceedings are going on, or the police officer.

A mobile tower normally covers an area of about 500 metres in radius. The service provider mentions the latitude and longitude within the mobile tower’s radius from where the call was made. Using GPS applications, the police can pinpoint the location of the person within the 500-metre area. The location of a person plays a crucial role for the police in their investigation and to prove the case in a criminal court.

Over the years, details of CDR collected though investigative mechanisms have helped the enforcement agencies prove innumerable cases.

How much is the delay in getting CDRs?

The CDRs are obtainable from telecom companies only. The companies can provide the details within one hour after they receive an application from the police officer or the court. They used to give them within a reasonable time.

The CDRs for the past one year alone will be available with the telecom companies.

Individual cannot obtain CDR for personal needs

An individual cannot obtain CDRs unless a concerned matter is in the court and CDRs are necessary to prove one’s case.

People cannot in legal means seek CDR details to spy on their spouses, children, etc. or for other personal purposes. Where CDR details are required urgently for producing as evidence, a person can approach any officer above the rank of a Police Superintendent. It must be kept in mind that recording wife’s telephone conversation is unlawful.

Actions against illegal collection of CDRs

When a person obtains CDRs illegally the aggrieved person can file civil suit for damages under Section 43A of Information Technology Act (IT Act) against the concerned telecommunication company.

It is possible to file a criminal complainant under Section 72 of the IT Act for obtaining your call record without your permission.

Similarly, phone tapping is an illegal thing in India ( Read the article Phone Tapping in India: Its Legal Provisions)..

CDR is admissible in evidence

CDR is admissible as evidence in court. With developments in technology, the courts these days are more receptive of different electronic and digital data as evidence.

Now evidence includes electronic records produced for the inspection of the court. Therefore CDRs can be produced in the courts as electronic evidence in support of one’s case.

It is now essential that CDR to be accompanied with a certificate ( see a model certificate )  as prescribed under Section 65 B (4) of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

When accused wants, mask the call data

When an accused wants to summon CDR so as to prove that the officer was not present at a site or at a time, the call details can be produced by masking or blacking out the number and identity of the callers so as to prevent any harm or prejudice to the information providers to the police. This masking is essential as a police officer is not compelled to reveal the source of information regarding commission of any offence [See Suresh Kumar v Union of India: 2014 SCC SC 1833].

The above decision was followed in the judgement of the High Court of Kerala in Gokul Raj v State of Kerala: 2021(4) KHC 143.

Further reference

  1. Government of India: License Agreement for Unified Services
  2. Indian Telegraph Act 1885
  3. Information Technology Act, 2000