In the United States, law enforcement and security agencies have raised privacy concerns with a new proposal for electronic eavesdropping powers to track terrorists and criminals and unscramble their encrypted messages.
But here in India, government authorities are well beyond the proposal stage. Prompted by fears of digital-era plotters, officials are already demanding that network operators give them the ability to monitor and decrypt digital messages, whenever the Home Ministry deems the eavesdropping to be vital to national security.
Critics, though, say India’s campaign to monitor data transmission within its borders will hurt other important national goals: attracting global businesses and becoming a hub for technology innovation.
The most inflammatory part of the effort has been India’s threat to block encrypted BlackBerry services, widely used by corporations, unless phone companies provide access to the data in a readable format. But Indian officials have also said they will seek greater access to encrypted data sent over popular Internet services like Gmail, Skype and virtual private networks that enable users to bypass traditional telephone links or log in remotely to corporate computer systems.
Critics say such a threat could make foreigners think twice about doing business here.