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India pushes for Google, Skype and RIM data access

by Sarah Griffiths on 3 September 2010, 11:29


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Security scuffle

India will ask Google, Skype and Research in Motion (RIM) in install servers in the country so security agencies can read private mail.

According to Business Week, India's home secretary, GK Pillai said: "They have to install servers in India," adding that notices will be sent to companies demanding ‘lawful access'.

The Indian government has previously raised fears that encrypted message and email chat services could be used by terrorists to plan illegal acts, around the time that a handful of Middle East countries demanded RIM gave them access to BlackBerry users' messages.

RIM managed to dodge a ban in India on 31 August by caving in to pressure from the government and agreeing to allow it to access BlackBerry users' emails and instant messages. 

 The country has reportedly started testing RIM's monitoring tool to check it can snoop messenger and mail services effectively. The home minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, is said to have told reporters that discussions for more access are ongoing and the situation will be reviewed in 60 days.

A debate is raging as to whether RIM has sold out and compromised its BlackBerry's appeal as it was widely used by professionals for its secure messaging service. However, by sidestepping a ban in India, RIM can still sell to the second largest mobile market in the world.

Both Skype and Google told Business Week they have not received a request from India yet to plant local servers in the country. Yet, Nokia Ovj will reportedly set up local servers by 5 November to secure its place in India's mobile market.

Perhaps the biggest question for consumers across the globe is whether private messages to India will be able to be read by the country's authorities and whether they would be notified. Although companies and bizarrely the US have conceded such services could pose a security risk to countries, it does open a can of worms concerning individuals' rights to communicate freely with each other without being spied upon.

In more trouble for RIM, Indonesia's tech minister has called on the company to block access to digital content in one of its most important Asian markets.

According to The FT, Tifatul Sembiring has asked RIM to block pornographic content, which is currently available to over 1m users in the country, or has threatened to ban the service all together if demands are not met. But RIM may not have to worry yet, as the government has decided a complete ban might be too harsh at this early stage and Sembiring's threat was ‘too strong'.

However, Indonesia may follow in India's footsteps by demanding that companies like RIM set up servers in Indonesia to give its authorities access to private messages. New regulations about online data are expected to come into force in the coming months, throwing privacy and data issues into sharper relief.

Authorities may be on the lookout for surfers accessing pornography online, as the predominantly Muslim nation bans it, although websites and black market DVDs are reportedly available.

The government reportedly said it is keen to police private messages and mobile internet use to stamp out pornography, (rather than sniff out terrorists) and in August told internet service providers to shut down around 4m websites with pornographic content, although it is hard to know how successful it has been.

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