Indian call center under suspicion of ID breach

An Australian TV show claims that it was able to buy overseas customer data at an Indian call center.

An undercover operation that allegedly found customers' data for sale by outsourcers has rocked the Indian software and service industry.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported on Monday that its TV program "Four Corners" was able to get hold of the personal details of Australian customers from an unidentified journalist working undercover in an Indian call center. The same writer recently helped British tabloid The Sun to buy the sensitive data on British citizens.

"The Australian samples appeared to have come from a call centre in Gurgaon," according to a transcript of the program. "The kind of details they provided was alarming--not just the names and addresses of Australian customers but also their telephone numbers, birth certificate details, Medicare numbers, driver's license numbers (and) ATM card numbers."

ABC did not name the call center involved, but said the provider had been hired by Switch Mobile, an Australian telemarketing company. The Gurgaon center contracted out calls made to Australians to another Indian company, Brick & Click, thus creating a further layer of insecurity, the program said. Switch Mobile has since canceled its contract with the unnamed Indian center.

The National Association of Software and Service Companies, an Indian trade body, has asked ABC to provide details of the operation so that the matter can be reported to law enforcement officials.

"Such reports emanate from 'entrapment operations,' and no person has reported any harm yet," Nasscom said. "In the absence of a formal complaint, even the enforcement officials cannot launch formal investigations and apprehend the criminals."

Nasscom said it would work with authorities in Australia and India to nab the culprits.

"Indian IT companies undertaking work for global companies contractually comply with all the requirements of the relevant privacy and data protection laws of the home country, as well as other security and confidentiality safeguards," Nasscom said. "Each of our customers must perform strict due diligence on all their vendors and ensure contractual commitments to relevant laws."

In the wake of concerns over data security in call centers working for overseas clients, Nasscom has decided to create a register of IT workers hired in call centers. At present, about 350,000 workers are employed in the business process outsourcing sector and the number is projected to grow to a million in another three years.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reviewed the matter recently with IT industry leaders and ordered that the Information Technology Act be amended to make it more stringent.

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