Nokia already has agreed to place a server in India by Nov. 5.
The government says BlackBerry is exploring the possibility of installing a server in India as part of ongoing negotiations that narrowly avoided a ban on its services on Aug. 31.
One possible compromise could be to set up a BlackBerry Messenger server in India for instant messaging, but keep key corporate enterprise e-mail servers abroad. BlackBerry is eager to persuade corporate users that its enterprise e-mail will remain the gold standard for security, despite pressure from governments in Asia and the Middle East, which fear superencrypted communications could be abused by militants.
Pankaj Mohindroo, president of the Indian Cellular Association, whose members include Nokia and Motorola, said Indian telecom laws are ambiguous but can be interpreted to mean that all service providers must place servers in India.
He added that users should have faith the Indian government won’t abuse its privileges.
“Interception here is done after clearance by high levels,” he said. “Consumers should never worry some junior police officer is snooping their data. It’s rarely done, and it’s done with very good purpose.”
Looming behind the fight is a sense that India wants the same level of access granted other countries such as China.
Google India spokeswoman Paroma Roy Chowdhury said Google does provide user content to law enforcement agencies, but only in exceptional circumstances. All requests are reviewed by an internal committee at Google, she said.
“There have been requests from law enforcement agencies,” she said. “These are reviewed on a strictly case-by-case basis. Only in exceptional circumstances — when there is a threat of large-scale human loss, like a bomb threat — is the content made available.”
According to Google’s website, India made 1,061 requests for user data in the second half of 2009, the most after Brazil, the United States and Britain. It did not disclose numbers from China because “Chinese officials consider censorship demands as state secrets.”
Google did not disclose how many requests were granted.
Skype spokeswoman Eunice Lim said by e-mail from Singapore that the company “cooperates with law enforcement agencies as much as is legally possible.”
Skype uses local servers in China and has said on its blog that chat messages into and out of China may be monitored and stored by local authorities. In places such as China — where it works with a local partner, Tom Online Inc., and distributes modified Skype software — it complies with local, rather than Luxembourg, law in making data available to security agencies.
“This means there is a possibility that your communications and personal data could be stored, monitored, or blocked and made available to authorized local parties, for instance law enforcement, subject to the local legal standards,” Skype says on its website.
In 2008, a Canadian researcher discovered that the Chinese version of Skype communications software was snooping on text chats that contained certain keywords, including “democracy.”