India plans to restrict email use after NSA leaks

Image caption,
India's Communications and IT Minister, Kapil Sibal, intends to introduce the ban before the end of December

India is planning to impose a ban on the use of foreign cloud-based email services to send official communications, before the end of the year.

It would prevent civil servants using Gmail, Yahoo! or

Instead they would be required to use a service provided by the country's own National Informatics Centre (NIC).

The move follows the publication of leaks about US cyber-spying operations.

According to documents given to the Guardian and subsequently reported by The Hindu newspaper in June, 6.3 billion pieces of information were collected from India's computer and telephone networks over the course of a month by the US National Security Agency (NSA), making it the fifth most "intensively watched" country.

Spying allegations

India's communications and IT minister first announced his intention to restrict which email services officials could use in August.

He added that staff working outside the country should use virtual private networks and one-time passwords when accessing NIC servers to further protect themselves.

"It is imperative in view of the security concerns that exist in other countries,'' Kapil Sibal said at the time.

One of the minister's officials has now confirmed the plan is close to implementation.

Image caption,
India's authorities would be limited to sending emails via the state's own system

"Our effort will be to operationalise the policy by mid or end-December," said J Satyanarayana, secretary at the Department of Electronics and Information Technology, at a conference in Delhi.

Brazil's anger

India is not the only country implementing such measures.

Earlier this month Brazil's president confirmed her country planned to set up its own secure, encrypted email service to "prevent possible espionage".

The move would prevent the NSA and GCHQ (the UK Government Communications Headquarters) monitoring locally sent and received messages unless Brazilians allowed them access to their servers or if the emails were sent to an account belonging to a non-protected service.

President Dilma Rousseff, in a speech at the UN. described the suspected interception of Brazilian diplomats' data as "a breach of international law".

However, India's ministers have been less vocal about the issue.

Image caption,
Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff has been more vocal about cyber-spying efforts than India's leaders

"This is not scrutiny and access to actual messages," said India's External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid in July when questioned about the alleged surveillance of his country.

"It is only computer analysis of patterns of calls and emails that are being sent. It is not actually snooping specifically on content of anybody's message or conversation."

Since then there have been allegations that the US has tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone for more than a decade and monitored dozens of other world leaders.

However, when questioned about the matter a spokesman for India's prime minister Manmohan Singh told the BBC last week: "We have no information and no cause for concern."

India is in the process of creating its own data intercept scheme called the Centralised Monitoring System.

Local telecoms operators have been told they must co-operate with the surveillance effort, which involves a variety of local security agencies.

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