India wants to intercept Skype, Google communications

An Indian minister said that the country had asked a number of companies to allow them to monitor communications

The controversy over India's demand that it be allowed to monitor online and mobile communications resurfaced again on Wednesday, with an Indian minister telling reporters that the government had asked Skype, Google, and several other companies to give it access.

Google said that it had not received any communication on the issue from the government. "Thereby we are unable to comment on it," a spokeswoman said on Wednesday. Skype was not immediately available for comment.

There is a whole list of companies that have been asked to provide monitoring solutions, as law enforcement agencies, the home ministry, and intelligence agencies want the information for national security, said Sachin Pilot, Minister of State for Communications and IT, speaking in Delhi, according to reports.

The government is worried that terrorist outfits are using the Internet and mobile communications to plot and execute attacks. A spokesman for the Department of Telecommunications said he was not aware of the comment by the minister, as he was not at the event.

The government has previously demanded that Research In Motion provide its law enforcement agencies access to communications, including corporate e-mail on its BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES). While RIM has provided "lawful access" to its consumer services like BlackBerry Internet Service and BlackBerry Messenger, it said that the encryption keys to access the mail on BES are with customers and not with the company.

RIM said in a customer update in February that it had been assured by senior Indian government officials that it would not be singled out, and that any policy relating to "lawful access" requirements for encrypted enterprise or VPN (virtual private network) communications would be applied to all products and services that use encryption in India.

This is not the first time that the government has said that it will ask other service providers like Google and Skype to provide access to communications. At a meeting last year of the Department of Telecommunications, which was attended by representatives of service providers, it was reportedly discussed that other online services besides BlackBerry should also be asked to give access to India's security agencies.

Google, Skype and other companies providing communications services in India will have to make provisions for interception of these communications by India's security agencies, former Indian Home Secretary G.K. Pillai said in September.

Under the law, the government can demand access under specific conditions, but a blanket permission to access could antagonize the companies involved, as well as investors, and consumers in the country, analysts said.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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