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India Eying Access To All Encrypted Services, Not Just Email

India isn’t just looking to gain access to RIM’s Blackberry emails and Nokia’s Push Mail services – it’s all services that use encryption services. The one question that should have been on everyone’s mind after the Indian government’s long back and forth on the blocking of Blackberry services was this – why only Blackberry? Last week, we got an answer to that question – it isn’t just Blackberry. The Economic Times reported that India’s Home Ministry has asked the Department of Telecom to bar “mobile phone companies” (presumably, telecom operators) from launching Nokia’s Push mail and power mail services. A few other questions still remain:

– Why Only Push Mail? Note that Nokia’s Push service hasn’t been “banned” in India, as reported. You can still set up email on your Nokia handsets, and it can pull in mail on a regular basis. In that context, all Android phones can pull in email, or you can just log on to any email service via the mobile Internet, and refresh your email. So why single out push mail? Most pull mail services also deliver email in realtime. There are several of email sites online, many of them encrypted. What all will they track? Will the Home Ministry mandate that only “registered”, “approved” or “licensed” service providers can provide email in India? They can clearly control access through ISPs and Telecom operators.

– Why Email? Why Not Social Networks? Via the mobile Internet, you can log on to various chat services and interact in real-time, (depending on the reliability of GPRS/3G connectivity from your telecom service provider. Keep in mind that phone calls are already being tapped. Indian government has acknowledged that “On an average, between 7,500 to 9,000 orders for interception of telephones are issued by the Central Government per month,” typically for a time period not more than 6 months.

It appears that it’s not just email that is being looked at. In an interview with Business Standard, R Chandrashekar, Secretary at the Department of Telecom says that “All the services which use encryption in one form or the other are being looked at

Remember that Video Calling in India was banned for a while, until telecom operators assured that they’ll provide real-time interception of video calls. That deadline expires on July 31st 2011. Note that there are other tools which will allow video calling, or even just Internet Telephony services, and if we’re moving beyond just email to all communication, then social networks could be under the radar. Users could be exchanging messages on Facebook chat, messages, or merely Direct messaging each other on Twitter.

Blackberry and Nokia Push Mail are being targeted now, but as is clear from what Chandrashekar said, the scope is vast, and it can be expanded. So the question is – what next? About time someone also looked at this from a privacy perspective; “National Security” is important, there need to be checks and balances to ensure this power to access personal and business communications isn’t abused.

Note: Do read comments on privacy issues with the rules to the IT Act by CIS India.

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