Reports: BlackBerry, Skype, Google Face India Data Demand

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India's Department of Telecommunications (DOT) has been asked by the government to serve a notice to Skype and Research In Motion (RIM) to ensure that their email and other data services comply with formats that can be read by security and intelligence agencies, according to reports in two Indian newspapers.

Skype and the BlackBerry service could face a ban in India if they do not comply within 15 days, according to reports in The Economic Times, and The Hindu Business Line. A similar notice is also being sent to Google asking it to provide access to content on Gmail in a readable format.

Both reports cite minutes of a joint meeting of the country's home ministry, the DOT, and security agencies.

India's security agencies have for a long time asked for greater access to online data communications as they worry that terrorists could be planning attacks using such services.

A DOT spokesman said he had no information on the order.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs also said he was not aware of the order, but added that any communication of this nature between his ministry and the DOT was unlikely to be brought to his notice.

The current issue is similar to one between the government and RIM in 2008. The government had at the time threatened to discontinue BlackBerry services in India unless RIM gave Indian security agencies the means to intercept and read BlackBerry messages whenever the need arises.

The BlackBerry security architecture for enterprise customers is specially designed to exclude the capability for RIM or any third party to read encrypted information under any circumstances, the company said in 2008 in a note to customers. The security architecture is based on a symmetric key system whereby the customer creates his own key, and only the customer possesses a copy of his encryption key, RIM said.

The dispute between RIM and the government was resolved, but it wasn't clear whether a secret agreement has been reached by the government and RIM, or whether the government backed down rather than cut off a large number of business customers that use the BlackBerry.

India's Information Technology (Amendment) Act 2008 now makes it easier for India's security agencies to demand that service providers should make decryption keys available to security agencies when required.

On receipt of a decryption order, the decryption key holder concerned must within the period stated in the decryption direction disclose the decryption key, or provide the decryption assistance, according to the rules to the new Act.

A Google India spokeswoman said on Thursday that the company had not received any order from the DOT.

RIM India's spokesman said he could not immediately comment on the reports.

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