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Government launches broad new offensive against electronic communications

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is alarmed by the latest demands being made by India's security agencies with the aim of reinforcing surveillance of Internet use. E-mail service providers such as Yahoo! and Gmail are now being instructed to route all e-mails accessed in India through servers based there to facilitate monitoring.

The Indian media report that, during a meeting in the office of the home secretary (interior minister), the department of information technology was told to notify all e-mail service providers of the new directive.

According to a 22 February 2012 article in "The Times of India", the Intelligence Bureau (IB) has also told department of telecommunications to ask mobile phone companies to set up mechanisms for monitoring Internet usage on mobile phones.

"These are the latest of many abusive demands that the Indian authorities have made on Internet companies and service providers," Reporters Without Borders said. "The government's desire to step up surveillance of telecommunications has become obsessive since the 2008 Mumbai bombings. It should not forget the fundamental right to confidentiality and privacy. These plans must be dropped and the harassment of Internet companies must stop."

For the moment, Yahoo! routes e-mails via servers based in India only if they involve e-mail accounts registered in India. E-mails sent from accounts registered abroad (addresses ending in or, for example) are routed through servers based abroad even if they are accessed in India. This means that the Indian security services cannot inspect them without first making a formal request to the government of the country concerned.

It has also emerged that, at a meeting in January, security agencies told the department of telecommunications to provide them with a list of all the Indian companies using BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES), a highly encrypted corporate e-mail service provided by the BlackBerry smart phone's Canadian manufacturer, Research in Motion.

The security agencies apparently intend to contact each of these companies one by one and ask them to surrender the company encryption key, without which BES e-mails cannot be accessed.

According to "The Times of India", Research in Motion has established a server in India that will allow Indian law enforcement agencies to intercept messages sent by the BlackBerry instant messaging service, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), in real-time.

India fell nine places to 131st of 179 countries in the 2011-2012 world press freedom index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.

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