Last week, Skype announced the launch of video calling application for the iPhone, and undoubtedly, similar applications must be in the works for other smart phone platforms. Other VoIP based calling applications will probably follow suit. What will the Indian government do?
The Indian government, last month, asked telecom operators Reliance Communications and Tata Teleservices to shut down their video calling services, because of issues related to interception of such calls. BusinessLine reported that the reason for temporarily shutting down the service, was that the government wanted real-time access to Video Calls being made by customers: at present, these calls are available only five minutes after the completion. From what a telecom operator source told us, all video services on 3G have currently been put on hold.
But there is another problem: that of the Mobile Internet. Currently, Internet Telephony calls originating from India, are not permitted to terminate on landline and mobile handset networks within India. However, there are applications like Skype, Fring and Nimbuzz which allow consumers to make and receive calls on the Mobile Internet. We’re not sure if they can be intercepted, but as long as Internet access is unregulated, these applications can easily be downloaded. Extend the calling ability to video calls, and the Indian government has a problem. With 3G data speeds, one has the bandwidth to switch to Internet Telephony from voice networks. How will the government intercept those calls?
Technology will continue to outpace the ability of the government to intercept, monitor or block services. But I think there’s a larger problem here – of the need that the Indian government has to regulate and intercept all forms of communication, and enhancing the ability to snoop on people under the ruse of “National Security”. Look at it this way: The Indian government wants to tie each individual to a unique identification number (Aadhaar), currently has the ability to intercept all telephone calls, was pushing ISPs to record and store Internet access information, and had also asked telecom operators to enable location awareness of all mobile phone users. National Security is important, but what of an individuals privacy, and checks and balances to prevent misuse of access to information?