India demands RIM, Google, Skype set up servers it can spy on

The Indian government said today that Research In Motion (RIM), Google, Skype, and other call providers must set up servers in India which will allow the interception of encrypted data.

In a news conference G.K. Pillai, chief bureaucrat in the Home Ministry, said “all people who operate communication services in India should have a server in India,” which he said would allow his government to intercept and monitor call data.

Some companies have already buckled. Nokia has agreed to set up a server in India by November and said it would allow security services access to data on its smartphones.

RIM has been under pressure from the Indian government throughout August over its encrypted call service, with threats of a full ban temporarily averted recently. It was awarded a 60 day reprieve to continue negoations with India, which will most likely conclude with it establishing a server in the region.

Yesterday the Indian government began sending out notices to other communication services including Google and Skype, warning them that their call networks would be shut down if they failed to comply with its demands, which it says are to stop terrorists using encrypted calls to plan attacks.

TechEye contacted Skype to see if it would comply with India’s demands. A spokesperson refused to offer us any comment, offering to send a prepared statement instead where it said that Skype has not yet been contacted.

We also spoke to Laurie Mannix at Google, but all she could offer us was: “As we have not received any communication on this issue from the government we are therefore unable to comment.”

Same as yesterday – even though the Indian government said it would begin sending out notices.

The slow pace it is taking suggests it doesn’t want to come off as too forceful in its threat to the big boys in the technology industry, particularly considering Google’s reaction to government demands in China earlier this year. Or maybe it is just running on Indian time.

It is not clear if Skype or Google will comply with the demands. On one hand they will not be keen on the bad PR of allowing a government to snoop on their customers calls, although Google probably will do that itself. On the other hand India is a pivotal economy, particularly for the call market, and the potential loss of business there will be a strong motivating factor for compliance.

“All security concerns need to be addressed,” said Home Minister P. Chidambaram. “Our stand is firm. We look forward to getting access to the data. There is no uncertainty over it.” Not much room for negotiation, then.