TECHNOLOGY: Month-end deadline on BlackBerry

TECHNOLOGY: Month-end deadline on BlackBerry – or the big-brother is watching you ?!!

Blackberry - keeping up with the terrorists, good for sales now or not ?!!


New Delhi, Aug. 12: BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM) will have to come up with a solution by this month-end to allow monitoring of the data in its phones or face a possible ban on two key services.

The decision was taken at a meeting of officials of the home ministry and the telecom department and security experts. Officials will meet the Canadian firm’s executives in the first week of September to take the final call.

The August-end deadline came on a day Saudi Arabia announced that it would allow the BlackBerry messenger service, which was to be stopped from August 9, to continue, citing “positive developments” with the firm.

In India, any ban will cover BlackBerry’s corporate email and chat facilities, two of its main services the authorities insist should be open to scrutiny for security reasons. “A possible ban on BlackBerry chat and corporate email services, if no solution is reached till the end of the month, would be decided later,” an official said.

Corporate emails and chat content are transmitted in an end-to-end encrypted format to ensure secrecy, making it difficult for security agencies to monitor the content. These are precisely the two services the authorities are threatening to stop unless the company offers some way of decoding the format. But Union telecom minister A. Raja is confident a solution to cracking the code will be reached soon.

Voice calls, text messages and Internet surfing will continue to be available to the estimated one million users of BlackBerry in India even if a ban is eventually imposed as these services can be monitored.

Security agencies want access in a readable format to the corporate email and chat services as they believe these could be used by terrorists. Pakistani militants had used mobile and satellite phones during the 2008 Mumbai attack. Under the law, all telecom service providers are required to offer access to security agencies to monitor services.

Union home secretary G.K. Pillai chaired the meeting that decided to set the month-end deadline. Later, ministry spokesperson Onkar Kedia said in a statement: “The meeting asked the telecom department to convey to service providers that two BlackBerry services, namely Business Enterprises Services (corporate email) and messenger (chat) services, be made accessible to law enforcement agencies by August 31.”

Executives of the Canadian company skipped the meeting but Robert Crow, RIM’s vice-president for industry and government relations, met home minister P. Chidambaram in what an official dubbed a “courtesy call”.

Officials of Airtel and Vodafone — among the leading providers of BlackBerry services in India — had not been invited to the meeting, sources said.

Government officials have said in the past that RIM has proposed tracking emails without sharing encryption details, but that was not enough. RIM has said BlackBerry’s email lets customers create their own key, and the company has neither a master key nor a “back door” to allow it or any third party to access crucial corporate data.

RIM, unlike rivals Nokia and Apple, operates its own network through secure services located in Canada and other countries, such as Britain. The BlackBerry image could suffer if users — 41 million of them worldwide — feel RIM has compromised its email system. Both corporate and regular customers use its messenger service.


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