India Getting Tough on Not Only BlackBerry, But Google and Skype

By Tracey E. Schelmetic September 01, 2010

Showing it means business when it comes to threats made to wireless companies of both the hardware and service provider variety, the government of India today launched a clampdown on major Internet communications firms, including Google and Skype, and began to access some encrypted BlackBerry traffic in a campaign driven by homeland security fears.

G.K. Pillai, India’s Home Secretary, said that notices were being sent to both Google and Skype asking them to set up servers in India to allow security officials access to encrypted wireless Internet data that officials fear could be misused by militants. The Indian government’s caution is based on precedent: terrorist bombs planted in Mumbai by Pakistani militants in November of 2008 and resulting in the death of 173 people were detonated by cell phones. Since then, Indian security officials have stepped up the monitoring of wireless devices and data. Indian officials last month threatened to shut down BlackBerry’s encrypted e-mail and messaging service via an order to Indian wireless service providers that support BlackBerry; namely, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone India. Earlier in the week, RIM won a bit of a reprieve from an initial August 31st deadline set by the Indian government after offering some compromise solutions for data access.

The Indian government is essentially asking for the same deal BlackBerry’s maker, Research in Motion (RIM), reached with the government of Saudi Arabia. Earlier this month, Saudi Arabian officials ruled they would not ban the encrypted BlackBerry services after reaching a preliminary agreement with RIM to place a server in the country to facilitate security monitoring.

If in the end India sanctions BlackBerry for refusal to allow full and open monitoring of encrypted messaging, it may set a precedent that could hurt companies with a reputation built on system security, according to the Associated Press. It may also open up the market to BlackBerry’s biggest rivals in India, which is the fastest growing wireless market in the world: namely, competitors Apple and Nokia may reap a windfall. Some concessions by RIM appear to have staved off a shut-down, but it appears the Indian government is not yet fully satisfied: government ministers show no signs of backing off their initial demands for full access encrypted wireless data .

Several other countries, most of them in the Middle East but also including China, have expressed concern to RIM that BlackBerry devices might be used to terrorist activities or distribute pornography. China’s public tiffs with Google have been, and continue to be, epic and legendary.

Google and Skype have yet to comment on the Indian government’s demands.

Tracey Schelmetic is a contributing editor for TechZone360. To read more of Tracey's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Erin Harrison

TechZone360 Contributor

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