Date: 03/06/2013

Bharti Jain, TNN | Jun 3, 2013, 12.28 AM IST

NEW DELHI: The US has expressed "inability" to push internet giants like Google and Facebook to meet Indian agencies' requests for access to private content uploaded on their sites to track criminals and mischief-mongers.

During the recent India-US Homeland Security Dialogue, US representatives reportedly cited strict domestic laws on privacy and freedom of speech to refuse the intervention sought by the home ministry to access real-time sharing of suspicious internet activity routed through US-based internet sites.

India was instead advised to approach internet operators through court, with US officials saying their agencies were also accessing data by traversing the judicial route.

At the session on cyber cooperation held on May 20-22, the Indian side raised concerns over the "reluctance" of leading US-based internet firms like Google to respond to their requests for content or user data to aid criminal and even terror investigations.

Google and Facebook have often argued that they are bound by American laws alone in terms of content routed through a US-based server. Indian agencies allege they often adopt a highly selective approach on aiding investigations that have no bearing on security of the US.

Even though these internet companies have Indian subsidiaries, they claim to be solely for the purpose of sales with no bearing on content or search results. This has hampered court proceedings initiated in India against US-based internet sites, with their Indian representative arm arguing that summons for cases relating to content must be served directly on the US headquarters.

Incidentally, some popular US-based social networking sites like Twitter do not even have an Indian office.

Given that any court summons to a US entity must be made under the Indo-US mutual legal assistance treaty, the entire process becomes cumbersome and time-consuming.

Indian security agencies are now mulling options to get foreign-based internet sites to cooperate with Indian agencies in tracking suspicious net transactions. One of them is to ensure, by changes in the Information Technology Act, that global internet operators providing IT services in India are represented by a duly registered legal entity here.

The agencies are keen that such an Indian arm be governed by Indian IT laws, thus making it possible to serve them court summons here.

However, pragmatists warn the long-term solution may lie in developing surveillance systems that can independently track the traffic routed through these internet sites. Until then, it may be a better idea to find solutions in consultation with the internet service providers, a senior official of department of IT told TOI.