India may ask all firms offering internet telephony, including popular online phone service provider Skype, to set up servers in the country if they want to continue offering this facility here. The move is aimed at allowing law enforcement and security agencies get access to newer forms of communications that cannot be tracked by traditional monitoring systems.
The Centre has also decided to ask internet service providers and mobile phone companies to 'segregate Internet Protocol (IP) addresses on a state basis', a step that will allow the government to block social networking sites or any other websites and even internet telephony on select states or regions in the country.
These decisions were taken in a home ministry meeting on April 23 that was attended by representatives from Intelligence Bureau, other security agencies, top police forces and senior officials from telecom and IT departments. ET had reviewed the minutes of this meeting.
"Any service provider, who provides communication service in India via any media through Voice-over-Internet Protocol ( VoIP), should be mandated to be registered in India, having its office, server located in the country and therefore, subject to Indian laws. Necessary provisions to this effect may be incorporated through amendment in Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 and Information Technology Act, 2000," the minutes of the meeting said.
This solution was proposed after both the telecom and IT departments said it would be not possible to intercept internet telephony communications on a regional basis, or even block these in specific states and regions, due to 'unregulated internet architecture in India and highly decentralised encrypted structure of Skype'.
The minutes of the April 23 meeting also add that segregating IP addresses on a regional basis will 'facilitate home secretaries to allow lawful interception in areas under their jurisdiction under the Indian Telegraph Act and Information Technology Act'. According to international media reports, Microsoft-owned Skype, which has been popular with those who did not want their communications to be tracked by governments, had last year made technical upgrades and also expanded cooperation with law enforcement authorities.
India has been pushing IT majors and even handset companies to set up servers here resulting in the likes of BlackBerry and Nokia setting up interception facilities here to help intelligence agencies monitor communications on these devices. At the same time, the telecom department's research body C-DOT has also begun installing indigenously developed monitoring solutions on the networks of internet service providers (ISPs) and telcos.
During the April 23 meeting, it was also decided that all 'ISPs and telcos must designate a nodal officer in each state with access to GGSN gateway. In common parlance, the nodal officer must have access to that part of the network that is responsible for the delivery of data packets from and to the mobile stations within a geographical service area.
"The telecom department will also ensure that each state will have facilities for lawful interception of internet," the minutes add. India has been seeking to arm itself with the technological capabilities to block Twitter and other social networking sites in select states and regions after the government failed in its attempts last year to shut down social media in some parts of the country. The governnment's efforts had failed after telcos refused to comply stating that they lacked the technology to bar websites on a state-by-state basis.
On August 23 last year, the home ministry had asked the information technology ministry to direct ISPs and telcos to block Twitter in eight states — Kerala, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh — amid concerns that the popular social networking website was being used to fan communal tensions following violence in Bodo-dominated areas of Assam.
But the Twitter ban order could not be implemented after telcos said they could only block websites and social networking sites on a national basis. Following this, in an August 27 meeting in the Prime Minister's Office, which was attended by heads of all intelligence agencies as well as representatives from the ministries of home, telecom and IT, the government decided to set up an 'appropriate regime' to address issues related to blocking content on the internet and social media in a 'smart, timely and consistent manner'.
The new regime was to work out an effective cyber monitoring system, lay out guidelines and operating procedures on the nature of online content that would be blocked and also specify penalties for perpetrators.