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Indian outsourcers in data security push

India's booming software sectors are trying to improve data protection to please increasingly security-conscious clients.
/ Source: Reuters

India's booming software and outsourcing sectors are trying to improve data protection to please increasingly security-conscious clients and to pre-empt protectionist laws, industry officials said Thursday.

Officials of the National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) told a news conference they will work with customers, regulators and law enforcers to bolster "trustworthy outsourcing" in India.

India, where English-speaking workers earn a fraction of their Western counterparts, exported $12.5 billion of software and services in the year to March, up more than 30 percent from the previous year.

But protectionist laws have surfaced in some U.S. states to prevent local governments from outsourcing back-office jobs to India, while campaigners in the U.S. presidential election have also spoken of measures to check job losses.

U.S. lawmakers often cite security concerns about bank details and medical records being transferred to a foreign country when campaigning against outsourcing.

"There could be some legislation on data protection. I don't want to wait for it to happen. I want to be pro-active," said Kiran Karnik, president of NASSCOM.

"We have to watch that these (data issues) don't become non-tariff barriers," he said.

Summit with the U.S.
Karnik said the industry association planned to encourage Indian firms to share information on back-office workers, create a certification authority for safety, and plug gaps in Indian laws by talking to Europe and the United States.

A cybersecurity summit with the United States is planned for October, and NASSCOM plans to replicate a cybersecurity lab it formed for police in Bombay in other cities, Karnik said.

"India does not have a specific data protection act, but there are six laws which cover about 98 percent of the requirements," said Sunil Mehta, vice-president at NASSCOM.

In 2003/04, back-office work such as call centre operations and accounting services generated $3.6 billion in revenue and 245,000 of the jobs in the sector, which employs 800,000 overall.

NASSCOM said in a statement that a survey it commissioned found that Indian companies have rarely faced any problems on data security. Plus, despite an army of programmers, no major computer viruses had been traced back to India, Karnik said.