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India May Crack Down On Google And Skype Next

August 14, 2010

Both Google and Skype may be asked by India to provide greater access to encrypted information once the country resolves its current security concerns with Research In Motion’s BlackBerry mobile services, which are now under threat of a ban, according to a government document and two individuals involved in the discussions.

The 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, which were coordinated with satellite and cell phones, helped fuel the fire for India to prompt a vast security review of telecommunications ahead of the Commonwealth Games being held in New Delhi in October.

Some analysts say anonymous technologies, like prepaid phones, are more likely to be used to plan terror attacks than BlackBerry devices, which require reliable identity proof and contact information.

Officials from India’s Department of Telecommunications met on July 12 with representatives from three telecom service provider firms to discuss interception and monitoring of encrypted information by security agencies.

“There was consensus that there are more than one type of service for which solutions are to be explored,” according to a copy of the minutes of the meeting obtained by The Associated Press (AP).

“Some of them are BlackBerry, Skype, Google etc. It was decided first to undertake the issue of BlackBerry and then the other services,” the minutes said.

“They have clearly instructed us that after BlackBerry, they are going to take to task Google, Skype and similar services that bypass the monitoring department of India,” Rajesh Chharia, president of the Internet Service Providers Association of India, told AP. He added that they have to allow monitoring, as the law mandates it.

Currently only BlackBerry maker, Canada-based Research In Motion, is involved in the security concerns, said India’s Home Ministry department.

India threatened to ban BlackBerry services unless the device’s maker, RIM, makes them accessible to its security agencies by August 31.

RIM Vice President Robert E. Crowe met with the Home Ministry officials in New Delhi on Friday to try to avoid the ban. After the meeting, he said he remained optimistic.

Some rights groups fear that access granted could be abused.

RIM said in a statement on Thursday that it maintains a consistent global standard for legal access to encrypted information which precludes making special deals for specific countries.

Any access must be governed by a country’s laws and must be applied equally to all vendors and all technologies, RIM said.

The BlackBerry maker also added that it cannot “unlock” secure corporate e-mails. “Contrary to any rumors, the security architecture is the same around the world” and RIM has no ability to provide customer encryption codes, it said.

The US government has technology to crack encrypted messages, which it can legally use when national security is on the line, diplomats say.

India would like to get its hands on the de-encryption technologies, and will bring up a transfer of such technologies during a high-level discussion on technology transfer likely to come up at Obama’s state visit to India in November, the diplomats say.

RIM has quickly expanded its presence in India from 114,000 users in 2008 to around 700,000 today. 80 percent of its customer base in India are corporate clients, who would be hit hard by a ban, said Prasanto K. Roy, chief editor at CyberMedia Publications, a trade magazine group.

A ban on BlackBerry services could be good news for Nokia — RIM’s chief competitor in India — and Apple, which recently introduced its iPhone in India.

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