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Google, Skype under fire in India after BlackBerry reprieve

After BlackBerry won a reprieve, Google and Skype stepped into the firing line Tuesday as India's security agencies widened their crackdown on online communications firms.

India's BlackBerry users heaved a sigh of relief late Monday after the government gave the smartphone's Canadian manufacturer a two-month window to provide a permanent solution to avert a ban on its messaging services.

Security forces in India, battling insurgencies ranging from Kashmir in the northwest to the far-flung northeast, are insisting that telecoms groups give them the capability to monitor their data.

Skype, the Internet phone service, and Google, which has a new phone feature built into its Gmail email service, are set to be next to receive an ultimatum from the spies in New Delhi.

"The notices to these entities will be issued beginning Tuesday and all of them will be asked to comply with the directive or else they will have to close down their networks," a senior official told PTI news agency late Monday.

India is also targeting "virtual private networks", which give employees secure access to their company networks when they are working out of the office.

The maker of the BlackBerry, Canada's Research in Motion (RIM), has proposed setting up a server in India through which BlackBerry messages can be routed, giving security forces access, the home ministry said in a statement.

RIM's proposals for "lawful access" to its messages would be "operationalised immediately" and their feasibility assessed, the ministry said.

A RIM official told AFP the company had not compromised its public commitment to make no special deals with governments.

Analysts note other security-conscious nations such as China and Russia appear to be satisfied that their intelligence agencies have sufficient access to BlackBerry communications although the arrangements between RIM and these countries are not known.

BlackBerry has also been facing a threatened October 11 ban by the United Arab Emirates and has been negotiating with Saudi Arabia on security issues.

For the Indian government, a ban on BlackBerry services, used widely by India's elite, could have caused serious communication problems with the Commonwealth Games due to take place in New Delhi in just over a month.

Banning the service would have also created disruption for Indian companies, which widely use the Blackberry. RIM has 1.1 million users in India, although not all of them are corporate clients.

"It would have been a real inconvenience, I don't know what I would have done. I use the BlackBerry all the time," said an Indian oil company executive.