Critics say India’s surveillance hurts goal of drawing business

Prompted by fears of digital-era plotters, Indian officials are 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. Especially vulnerable could be outsourcing for Western clients, like processing medical records or handling confidential research projects, information that is typically transmitted as encrypted data.

“They will do damage by blocking highly visible systems like BlackBerry or Skype,” said Ajay Shah, a Mumbai-based economist who writes extensively about technology. “This will shift users to less visible and known platforms. Terrorists will make merry doing crypto anyway. A zillion tools for this are freely available.”

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