The union home ministry has asked providers of email, chat and voice over internet protocol (VoIP) services to allow the government real-time access to communication taking place over their networks.
The demand covers popular services like Gmail, Gtalk and Skype. The firms have been asked to share their encryption keys to ensure that data going through their network is available to security agencies in readable format instantly.
A spokesperson of Google, provider of services like Gmail and Gtalk, told HT that so far the home ministry has not been in touch with them about the demand, but the firm would be "willing to discuss the matterwith the government". The spokesperson added, "Google recognises the legitimate investigative needs of law enforcement agencies in India, and responds to their valid requests for information under applicable laws.
According to intelligence sources, there is an urgent need to keep a tab on these services as these have been used by terrorists in the past. In the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, terrorists used a voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP) service to remain in touch with their handlers in Pakistan. Indian agencies were helped by the US agencies to get information about these calls. The government wants to avert recurrence of such situations.
The encrption keys demanded by the government will help it decode the data, which is in secure, encrypted form.
A similar demand was made from BlackBerry e-mail service provider Research In Motion (RIM). RIM has provided a "workable solution" as far as surveillance of BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service is concerned, but the government wants to have a real-time surveillance facility for its enterprise service through which it provides email service to corporates.
The government has formed a technical group to look into that matter; the panel comprises representatives from the home ministry, the Intelligence Bureau, the Department of Telecommunications and the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO).