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India wants local servers from RIM, Google, Skype

India plans to ask the three companies to set up local servers in the country so that security agencies can monitor customer communications.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read

After its recent conflict with Research In Motion over access to customer data, India is expanding its reach to include Google and Skype.

The Indian government is asking all three companies to install local servers in the country so that it can more easily tap into encrypted e-mail and other communications, according to Bloomberg and other sources.

Home Secretary G.K. Pillai told reporters on Wednesday that notices were being sent to Google and Skype to provide "lawful access" of data to security agencies. The country sees access to such communications as vital in its fight against militants and terrorists who may use encrypted networks to plot  attacks.

"People who operate communication services in India should (install a) server in India as well as make available access to law enforcement agencies," Pillai told reporters, according to the Associated Press. "That has been made clear to RIM of BlackBerry but also to other companies."

The country is targeting Google for its Gmail data, which like BlackBerry communications, is heavily encrypted. The Indian government also wants to monitor IM conversations conducted through Skype. Earlier reports indicated that both companies could have received requests for local servers as early as this past Tuesday. But a Google India spokesperson told CNET on Thursday that the company has so far not received any communication from the Indian government.

A press release on India's Ministry of Home Affairs Web site from Monday said that "any communication through the telecom networks should be accessible to the law enforcement agencies, and all telecom service providers, including third parties, have to comply with this."

India has been battling with RIM to provide access to its customer data, threatening to shut down BlackBerry services unless the company complies. RIM initially took a hard stance, insisting that the data on its servers is encrypted and cannot be accessed. But faced with one deadline after another and a looming ban on its services, RIM has since softened its position. Though it's still refusing to loosen the BlackBerry's security, the company has been striving to work with Indian officials to reach some sort of compromise.

India had threatened to shut down BlackBerry services at the end of August but has since given RIM another 60 days as it evaluates the company's proposals, one of which could include setting up a local server.

But RIM seems to have already provided some type of access to the government to extend the deadline. The Monday press release at the Ministry of Home Affairs Web site said that RIM made certain proposals for lawful access by law enforcement agencies, which would be operationalized immediately.

Though the ministry didn't provide further details, the Bloomberg story reports that RIM averted the ban by conceding access to the e-mail and IM traffic on the BlackBerry. Bloomberg added that India's Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said his country is currently testing monitoring tools from RIM to see if they can access those services.

Phone calls and e-mails to RIM's press contacts were not immediately returned.