The imminent sale of instant messaging service ICQ to a Russian company has set alarm bells ringing in the US. Senior officials are worried they will lose one of their main ways of keeping an eye on the underworld.
One of the largest instant messaging services in the world, ICQ, is among the most popular Internet applications of its kind in Russia and Eastern Europe.
In spring 2010, Russia’s largest Internet investment company, Digital Sky Technologies, made a deal with AOL, current owner of ICQ, concerning the purchase of the service for $187 million.
It all went smoothly – until the recent announcement by US law enforcement bodies who claimed that homeland security could be jeopardized if the service is located in Russia. The US said it is sure that most criminals use ICQ and, therefore, constant access to the ICQ servers is needed to track them down. Currently, the system is based in Israel, US’s historic ally, which has been very convenient for the American security service.
In response, Russian specialists argued that there is no difference where the server is located as long as the world does its best to fight cyber crime together.
“The problem is that not only criminals are using ICQ. Most users are innocent. Nevertheless, there is no guarantee that your mail is not read,” Boris Kagarlitsky from the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements told RT. “This is a traditional human rights concern which has to be taken very seriously.”
Lawyers say that to block the deal the US Committee on Foreign Investment needed to cancel it no later than within 30 days after the deal has been announced – so unless the rules are broken, nothing can be changed.