Thomas K. Thomas

New Delhi, June 30

After banning Chinese telecom equipment, the Government has now put Blackberry devices, Skype services and Gmail under the security scanner.

The Department of Telecom (DoT) will ask these companies to either ensure that data going through their networks be made available to security agencies in a readable format or face a ban from offering services in India.

Concerns have also been raised about the data services being offered by Tata Teleservices and Reliance Communications as security agencies are not able to snoop into these networks.

“DoT will call the representatives of Research In Motion (manufacturer of Blackberry devices) and Skype and ask them to ensure that the content going through the telecom service providers is in readable format. They have to ensure that this is implemented within 15 days failing which services that do not allow lawful interception on a real-time basis would be blocked/banned,” said an internal Government note.

Representatives of Google will be called to ensure that Gmail is also in a readable format. A Google spokesperson said that no communication on this subject has been received from the Government as yet. “We will comment if and when we get any letter from the DoT,” the spokesperson said.

The Government has also decided to amend the IT laws to make it mandatory for such foreign companies that do not require a local licence to provide all the data required by Indian law enforcement agencies. Such a law would force companies such as Skype to give complete access to their networks or set up a local server in India to allow security agencies to track content.

These decisions were taken at a recent meeting between the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the Intelligence Bureau, the DoT and the National Technical Research Organisation — a scientific organisation under the National Security Advisor.

The basic problem is that the data services being offered by these companies are highly encrypted because of which Indian security agencies are finding it difficult to keep a watch over the content being transmitted through them.

Similar concerns were raised against Blackberry devices two years ago but the issue was put on the backburner. However, Government sources indicated that this time the concerns of the intelligence agencies will have to be addressed with the MHA pushing for a secure communication network.

Related Stories:
Tighter security norms for satellite phone services
Ban on China gear may become diplomatic issue
Mobile operators' gear purchase comes to a halt as DoT tightens security clearance

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated July 1, 2010)
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