- Associated Press - Thursday, September 2, 2010

MUMBAI, India (AP) — India has widened its security crackdown, asking all companies that provide encrypted communications — not just BlackBerry maker Research In Motion — to install servers in the country to make it easier for the government to obtain users’ data. That move likely would affect digital giants such as Google and Skype.

“People who operate communication services in India should (install a) server in India as well as make available access to law enforcement agencies,” Home Secretary G.K. Pillai told reporters. “That has been made clear to RIM of BlackBerry but also to other companies.”

On Monday, India withdrew for at least two more months a threat to ban BlackBerry service after RIM agreed to give security officials “lawful access” to encrypted data.

Indian officials also have been concerned for some time about Google and Skype, neither of which maintains servers in India. Google has an Indian unit, but Gmail is offered by Google Inc., a U.S. company subject to U.S. laws. Luxembourg-based Skype has no Indian operations.

India began a sweeping information security review after the November 2008 terror attack in Mumbai, which was coordinated with cell phones, satellite phones and Internet calls. Officials are also eager to avoid any trouble at the Commonwealth Games, a major sporting event to be held in New Delhi in October.

At the same time, India seems to be gaining confidence in its own attractiveness as a market, taking a tougher stance with international companies, not just in telecommunications — where it is the world’s fastest-growing major market — but also in mining and nuclear energy.

“Our stand is firm. We look forward to get access to data,” Home Minister P. Chidambaram told reporters. “There is no uncertainty over it.”

The U.N. technology chief expressed support for the Indian demand on Thursday. Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union, told the Associated Press in an interview that officials fighting terrorism had the right to demand access to users’ information.

RIM maintains that the geographic location of a server has no bearing on a government’s ability to crack encrypted data.

But placing a server in India does allow the government to access user content more easily, using Indian laws, rather than waiting for the cooperation of a foreign company or security agency, Indian experts say.

“The moment you will be in Indian land, you will be able to be controlled by the government’s ruling,” said Rajesh Chharia, president of the Internet Service Providers Association of India. “National security is supreme over privacy.”

He said there have been conflicts over data access in the past.

“Right now, the server is located outside India. And despite our best efforts to require them to access data, they say we are not governed by your system, we will not be providing it to you,” Mr. Chharia said.

He said the government wants everyone — including RIM, Skype, Google, Nokia and MSN Hotmail — to give Indian security agencies more access to their user content.

Skype, Google and Microsoft all said Thursday they’ve yet to receive any notification from the Indian government.

Story Continues →