India to monitor messages on Twitter, Facebook

India's communications ministry will begin to monitor social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook, amid fears that the services are being used by terrorists to plan attacks.

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India's communications ministry will begin to monitor social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook, amid fears that the services are being used by terrorists to plan attacks.

The move suggests that the Indian government is trying to broaden the scope of its online surveillance for national security.

Telecommunications service providers in India provide facilities for lawful interception and monitoring of communications on their network, including communications from social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter, in accordance with their licence agreements, minister of state for communications Milind Deora.

But there are certain communications which are encrypted, Deora said Friday.

The government did not provide details of what encrypted data they would like to have access to. A spokesman for the home ministry said on Monday that additional information can only be provided in Parliament while it is in session.

Under the country's IT Act which came into force earlier this year, websites and service providers are required to provide government security agencies with information on private accounts, including passwords, on request without a court order.

Most companies, however, are not willing to share information with law enforcement agencies unless they have a court order. Twitter states in its guidelines for law enforcement that "non-public information about Twitter users is not released unless we have received a subpoena, court order, or other valid legal process document."

Facebook has a similar policy, saying that US federal law prohibits the disclosure of the contents of an account such as messages, wall posts and photos except in response to a civil subpoena or court order.

Twitter and Facebook, which both rank in the top 10 most popular websites in India according to web statistics company Alexa, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Indian government has said it has asked other companies to provide ways to allow security agencies to monitor traffic on their networks, including Skype and Google, although those companies said they have not heard from the government.

India continues to press other companies for access to communications data. The government has asked Research in Motion, maker of BlackBerry devices, to provide access to emails and other communications on its corporate service, Blackberry Enterprise Server.

RIM has said that it is technically impossible for it to provide security agencies with access to encrypted emails, as the keys used to scramble the messages are in the hands of its customers.

Last week, a Parliament Standing Committee criticized the government for extending the deadlines for RIM to provide access to the communications. The committee recommended that the matter "should be taken up strongly with BlackBerry."