Skype, Google Face Indian Pressure For Data Access

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Fresh from reaching a compromise deal with BlackBerry maker RIM, India has set its sights on Skype and Google

The Indian government is now pressing other service providers to install local servers in that country, following its recent compromise deal with BlackBerry maker, Research in Motion (RIM).

An Indian government official indicated that it will dispatch notices to Google and Skype asking them to set up servers in the country and give access to its Internet data.

Install Servers Or Else

“They have to install servers in India” and “this applies to all,” Home Secretary G.K. Pillai was quoted by Bloomberg as telling reporters in New Delhi today.

He added that notices will be sent to the companies for “lawful access” by the security agencies.

India is also thought to be targeting “virtual private networks” (VPNs), which are traditionally used by staff to securely communicate with their colleagues and to gain access to the company network when they are working out of the office.

RIM Deal

RIM reached a compromise deal with the Indian government late last week in order to avoid a 31 August deadline that would have seen a ban on certain functions of the estimated one million BlackBerry devices in India, which is the world’s second largest mobile phone market.

As part of this deal, India has apparently started testing RIM’s monitoring tools to see if they allow its security agencies to tap its messenger and enterprise mail services.

It is also thought that RIM has granted India access to the ‘secure’ (i.e. encrypted) data that passed between the various BlackBerry devices – probably by installing a server in that country.

However RIM has previously denied that it has a “master key”, or a “back door” in its system that would allow RIM or any third party, under any circumstances, to gain access to encrypted corporate information. It also said that installing a BlackBerry server within India or anywhere else would not aid the government’s access to encrypted information.

As RIM has previously pointed out, allowing government assess to encrypted data will not necessarily mean that its security services will be able to break the high level of encryption that BlackBerry, Skype, and other services utilise.

However the deal seems to have satisfied Indian demands in the short term (at least two months) and it is understood that discussions for further access are ongoing, and the steps will be reviewed in 60 days, according to Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram.

RIM has also previously denied that it has reached a special deal with other countries concerned about the security risk posed by encrypted data.

BlackBerry Ban

In early August the United Arab Emirates announced it was planning to block RIM’s BlackBerry handsets from sending emails, accessing the Internet, and delivering instant messages. It set a deadline of 11 October.

Likewise, Saudi Arabia said it would prevent the use of the BlackBerry-to-BlackBerry instant messaging service. But the Saudi ban was due to begin on 6 August but RIM managed to avoid a ban there by holding last ditch talks, and eventually installed a server in Saudi Arabia.

Other countries, including India, Indonesia, Turkey, and Lebanon are thought to be also negotiating with RIM over the same issue.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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