Over 6 lakh Govt workers mandated to use NIC e-mail

The Government on Tuesday said it may ban email services such as GMail and Yahoo for official communications by the end of this year to safeguard its critical and sensitive data.

“E-mail policy of the Government of India, as this will be called, is almost ready and we are taking views from other ministries on this. Our effort will be to operationalise the policy by mid or end-December,” J. Satyanarayana, Secretary, Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY) told presspersons here.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Confederation of Indian Industry’s (CII) ‘Cloud Summit 2013 - Developing Cloud Strategy’, he said the Government would route all its official communication through the official website – National Informatics Centre’s (NIC) email service.

The policy would protect the maximum amount of critical data from the Government’s database and it would also aim to make it mandatory for Government offices to communicate only on the NIC (nic.in) platform instead of them using foreign companies’ services such as GMail, Yahoo, Hotmail or Rediff.

The reason for such development, according to Ministry sources, is that there have been concerns from some of the intelligence agencies over the use of email services provided by foreign firms (mostly US-based).

To some extent Google has such a model because ‘when you give something for ‘free’ you want something back in return, which is capturing information and use them anywhere they want’ said industry sources. So, data security is the key issue, they said.

And since the servers of these companies are located outside India, it makes it difficult for these agencies to track if sensitive Government data is being snooped upon.

On the investment, Satyanarayana said the Government would require around Rs 5 crore to start with to ramp up the NIC infrastructure. "But the total investment needed for the full e-mail policy could be around Rs 50-100 crore (over a time period),” he said.

He said the policy is also expected to cover around six-lakh Central and State Government employees for using the email service provided by NIC. This will include integrating the e-mails with cloud computing so that official data can be saved on a cloud platform, which can then be easily shared with the concerned ministries and departments, he added.

According to Bhaskar Pramanik, Chairman, Microsoft India and Chairman, National Committee on IT, ITeS and eCommerce, CII, there has been rapid adoption of cloud computing by medium and small enterprises also but the questions are around data security and privacy there as well.

"Privacy is one side of the issue, but data security is what most people have a challenge. The challenge they have is that they want to make sure that the data of customers which they have is not used by somebody else," he said.

"It is a global issue. You got to have a good balance between citizen privacy and citizen data versus national security. You have a choice – either you have the US look at your data or you can have the Indian Government look at your data – I don’t think one is better than the other,” Pramanik said.

Therefore, privacy is important from that perspective. But, at the same time, all Governments have to live in an environment where there are heightened tensions across the globe. And, therefore they have to manage that, he added.

ronendrasingh.s@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on October 29, 2013)
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