Calcutta police’s helpline 100 lacks the technology to automatically tell the cops where a mobile phone call is coming from, a shortcoming that can prove costly if the caller in distress is unable to specify her location.
A male colleague of the Frenchwoman who had been chased around Jodhpur Park by goons two weeks ago was advised to “go to the nearest police station” when he dialled 100 from his mobile phone because the cops didn’t know where to reach him.
Those manning the helpline that night — around 2am on July 14 — saw the mobile phone number and registration details of the SIM card flash on the screen but not the information required to send help to the caller.
An address blinks on the helpline screen only if the call is made from a landline, which is unlikely to be at hand when someone is trying to flee a gang of goons, like the French nationals were.
Helpline 100 receives 4,500 calls a day on an average and almost 80 per cent of them are from mobiles, an officer said.
But isn’t it technologically feasible to put a system in place where the locations of all calls can be identified in realtime? Experts say telecom service providers can be asked to make the location of all emergency mobile phone calls available to the police through a system called triangulation.
The mobile phone user’s location can be determined accurately up to 100 metres or thereabouts on the basis of information transmitted by the towers. For phones that have Internet access and/or are GPS-enabled, the locations can be determined more precisely.
The police blamed the telecom service providers for such a system not being in place. The service providers said it was not binding on them to provide location information and that doing so for every call would add to expenditure.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India says the “matter” is under consideration. As of now, service providers give the required information only when the police make a specific request.
All law enforcement agencies have a designated nodal officer through which requests for the tower locations of specific numbers are forwarded to the service providers. The requests take a few days to be processed, which makes the system unsuitable for emergency calls.
Delhi police don’t have a location identification system either but have demanded one. “It’s very important to immediately locate a distress caller. That saves precious time. We get the location of only fixed-line callers. There was a huge debate at the national level when we demanded the location of mobile phone callers from the telecom operators. The matter is under consideration,” T.N. Mohan, special commissioner (operations) in Delhi police, told Metro from the capital.
In Calcutta, the police brass refuse to admit it’s a problem, let alone try to solve it. “No no…there is no such problem at all. Our system sometimes displays a mobile phone caller’s location, sometimes it doesn’t. The system is being fine-tuned,” said Soumen Mitra, the additional commissioner-II who supervises the functioning of police helplines.
Mitra said he was unaware that the location of the French national who had made a distress call early on July 14 did not show up on the helpline screen. “I am not sure whether he made a call to Lalbazar,” the officer claimed.
The rule-book does not bar a telecom service provider from sharing information about a caller’s location with the police on grounds of privacy or any other clause. “The department of telecommunications made an amendment to the cellular mobile telephone service licence conditions in 2011 on this issue and the matter is under consultation. For the time being, there is no regulation barring disclosure of the location of a mobile phone user who has dialled a police helpline,” said Rupa Pal Choudhury of TRAI’s regional office in Calcutta.
The importance of sharing the locations of callers dialling police helplines has been recognised in a TRAI consultation paper dated March 15 on the “universal single number-based integrated emergency communication and response system”.
The paper mentions how various countries have dealt with the problem. “Some countries (Australia, New Zealand, UK, US etc) have put in place an integrated emergency communication & response system that is accessed through a universal single number. For example, in the US, the number 911 is used; in most of the European countries the number 112 is for emergency response.”
When someone dials the US emergency number, the call gets routed to a Public Safety Answering Point , a kind of call centre located at several places These points are manned by personnel trained to seek specific information from the caller.
A Calcuttan who once mistakenly dialled 911 during a visit to California shared his experience with Metro. “While trying to dial a number in India, I dialled 911 by mistake. Just after half a ring, a voice said “Santa Clara police” and I immediately disconnected the line. The phone rang after a while and a voice politely asked me if it was my daughter’s (they named her) house and if someone from there had just called 911... Minutes later, the doorbell rang. A young policeman was at the door. He said he was passing by and thought he should just check (on us),” wrote S.B. Gupta, a resident of Lake Gardens.