India to seek US help in monitoring Web chats

Government says it plans to ask the U.S. how it can decrypt data sent over messaging services such as WhatsApp and Viber, and complain about the lack of cooperation from U.S. service providers in aiding its cybercrime investigations.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

India says it will request the United States' help in decrypting messages delivered over online chat services as well as express its displeasure over U.S. service providers' refusal to cooperate in its cybercrime investigations. 

In a note issued by ahead of the Indo-US Police Chiefs conference to be held over two days starting Wednesday, India's Union Home Ministry said it planned to highlight to U.S. officials that online messaging services such as Viber, Whatsapp, Slype, and Wechat, posed a "challenge" to its security agencies in intercepting and monitoring communications. India wants the U.S. to share its technology and reveal how it has been able to do so, according to a report Tuesday by The Economic Times, which noted that the Asian economic giant had been pressuring the chat services to share their decryption keys. 

"The availability of their Web servers in India is required for legal interception of communications in real-time for timely action by security and intelligence agencies," the India ministry said in its note. "The communication over these services is encrypted, and the encryption-decryption technologies available with the service providers will be required by security agencies even if the facility for lawful interception of these communications is extended to security agencies in India. The technology in use by U.S. agencies may be an area of co-operation."

Following the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the Indian government said the terrorists were able to organize their attacks through the use of mobile phones and Internet messages, and had campaigned for a central monitoring system to thwart further attacks. Due to its popularity in the country, BlackBerry set up a server in India to facilitate the government's demand to track communications sent to and from any BlackBerry device. 

At the conference this week, the Indian Union Home Ministry would also express its displeasure to U.S. officials that U.S.-based service providers including Microsoft, Google Facebook, and Twitter had not once acceded to its request for user information or e-mail contents to assist in investigations. The U.S. companies also had refused to remove content on social networking websites which the Indian government had deemed to incite social unrest. 

The ministry said: "In many instances, hate speeches on various sites have created communal violence within India. Even in such important matters, service providers have refused to remove contents from their servers blocking the same from public viewing, citing the legal provisions of the country where their servers are based."

According to The Economic Times, India's Intelligence Bureau Chief Asif Ibrahim recently called for the establishment of an "Indo-American Alert, Watch and Warn" network to facilitate swifter cooperation between both law enforcement agencies in cybercrime investigations. He noted that service providers currently take between 15 and 80 days to respond to India's requests for "simple" data such as Internet logs. 

"In terms of cybercrime investigations, this is akin to a lifetime," Asif said. "Further, there is no guarantee that the required information will be provided at all," said the Indian Union Home Ministry in its note. 

Editorial standards