India eyes Google and Skype in security crackdown

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MUMBAI, INDIA (AP) - India may ask Google and Skype for greater access to encrypted information once it resolves security concerns with BlackBerrys, which are now under threat of a ban, according to a government document and two people familiar with the discussions.

The 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, which were coordinated with satellite and cell phones, helped prompt a sweeping security review of telecommunications ahead of the Commonwealth Games _ a major sporting event to be held in New Delhi in October.

Some analysts say more anonymous technologies _ like the basic Nokia phones used by 10 gunmen who rampaged through Mumbai in November 2008, leaving 166 dead _ and Gmail are more likely to be used to plan terror attacks than BlackBerry devices, which require reliable identity proof and contact information.

On July 12, officials from India’s Department of Telecommunications met with representatives of three telecom service provider groups to discuss interception and monitoring of encrypted communications by security agencies.

“There was consensus that there are more than one type of service for which solutions are to be explored,” according to a copy of the minutes of the meeting obtained by The Associated Press. “Some of them are BlackBerry, Skype, Google etc. It was decided first to undertake the issue of BlackBerry and then the other services.”

“They have clearly instructed us that after BlackBerry, they are going to take to task Google, Skype and similar services that bypass the monitoring department of India,” said Rajesh Chharia, president of the Internet Service Providers Association of India, who attended the meeting. “According to the law, they have to allow monitoring.”

The officials’ immediate concern was the BlackBerry, but they also plan to look at Google and other companies that use encryption for e-mail and messaging services, said Rajan Mathews, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India, who was briefed on the meeting.

Google and Skype said Friday they haven’t received any notices from the government.

The Home Ministry said present talks involve only BlackBerry maker, Canada-based Research In Motion.

“We are talking only to BlackBerry,” ministry spokesman D.R.S. Chaudhary said Friday. “Not to Google or others.”

On Thursday, India threatened to ban BlackBerry services unless the device’s manufacturer makes them accessible to its security agencies by Aug. 31.

On Friday, Research In Motion Vice President Robert E. Crowe met with Home Ministry officials in New Delhi to try to avoid the ban.

“I am optimistic,” Crowe told reporters after the meeting.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have also threatened to cut off popular BlackBerry services unless they get greater access. Like India, they’ve cited security concerns in pushing to access encrypted information sent by the cell phones that gets routed through servers overseas.

Rights groups fear such access could be abused.

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