The government has put on hold the rollout of third-generation (3G) phone services over fears that security agencies might land up with another service that cannot be intercepted, such as the BlackBerry corporate mail service.
Telecom companies have, meanwhile, pleaded with the government to allow 3G services, promising to put systems in place to enable real-time interception within a few months. See cartoon
"We are working with the government and have asked them not to stop the rollout of 3G," Rajan S. Mathews, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) said, according to news agency IANS.
Mathews said new technology which would allow the government legal wiretaps to address security concerns was expected within three-four months.
The home ministry officials said their reluctance to be accommodative of the telecom industry's concerns had to do with the BlackBerry experience.
Telecom firms had launched BlackBerry services without the security clearance. By the time technology-challenged bureaucrats woke up to the risks involved, it had added lakhs of subscribers to its base. Over the last few months, the ministry has held out threats to pull the plug on BlackBerry's corporate mail service but has extended deadlines.
"Once they have a subscriber base, mobile companies will try to leverage their subscriber base to get more relaxations.," a home ministry official said.
“And then, we will have to run after them… All that we are saying is please go ahead to launch services that can be intercepted in real time. If they have not installed the necessary hardware to meet this minimum requirement, you can't fault us," a senior official added.