It was a wake-up call for India to ensure that the country’s communications system was secure and could not be used against it by enemies. So, Chinese equipment came under scrutiny, BlackBerry services came under attack and expatriates heading or manning key telecom firms were put under scanner.
India virtually put a full stop to import orders by Indian telcos to Chinese manufacturers like Huawei and ZTE Technologies. Indian telecom operators came out in support of Chinese equipment makers, saying the government could not deprive Indian consumers of cutting-edge technologies that these firms offer by denying security clearance.
Many operators, especially those rolling out networks, cried hoarse, saying it was leading to huge losses, but the government didn’t budge.
The department of telecommunications (DoT), then, came out with a set of norms for telecom operators. Under the new policy, operators were required a security clearance before placing orders for import of equipment. A new security framework was issued in June this year, under which any security breach would invite a maximum penalty of 50 crore, apart from criminal proceedings. The new rules also require that the top management with vendors need to be Indians and names of these individuals will have to be cleared by the telecom and home ministries prior to their appointment.
The second front was opened with BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM). India wanted access to RIM’s unique BlackBerry data services such as messenger and e-mail. A whole host of services, including video chats offered by telecom players, Nokia’s push email services and Skype, also brought under a similar checklist.
DoT started examining all encryption-based services, divided into 14 categories, to ascertain whether it is technically feasible to provide interception solution to security agencies.
Thirdly, the government started pushing domestic and impelling foreign manufacturing firms to set up shop in India so that equipment can be controlled within the country. Recently, the department of telecommunications formulated a policy under which telecom operators have to buy 30 per cent of their equipment from companies who manufacture domestically in the first year to 80 per cent in the eighth year, but with a rider that it will have to match the price of the lowest bidder.
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Says the country is not totally insulated from the adverse global cues but it is relatively better-off