India to suspend two BlackBerry services on August 31

13 Aug 2010

BlackBerry users in India face losing access to their internet messaging (IM) and corporate emails at the end of the month if the government is not allowed to monitor data traffic passing through its network.

The country’s Department of Telecom told telecoms providers that two BlackBerry web services – the Business Enterprise Services that handle corporate email and the Messenger services for IM – will be suspended from August 31, 2010 if a solution has not been reached to allow access to the encrypted data on these services.

BlackBerry creator Research in Motion (RIM) of Canada has remained mum about ongoing negotiations with the authorities, saying that it “genuinely tries to be as cooperative as possible with governments in the spirit of supporting legal and national requirement, while preserving the lawful needs of citizens and corporations”.

RIM’s tight security infrastructure that encrypts data during the entire length of their transmission and the company’s practice to  store customer information in servers located overseas have raised national security concerns in countries in Asia and the Middle East.

The United Arabs Emirates (UAE) is threatening to stop BlackBerry users to go on email, IM and internet browser from October 11 if an agreement fails to materialise to address similar concerns (see news).

In Saudi Arabia, a ban on BlackBerry Messenger service has been averted when RIM, according to unnamed sources, reportedly agreed to install local servers in the country to allow the government to monitor the data being transmitted (see news here and here).

Asked whether a similar arrangement can be made in India, BlackBerry in Hongkong told Business Traveller that they are not privy to ongoing talks with the India government and cannot talk beyond the official statement.

The bone of contention is not only the ability to monitor the data traffic on BlackBerry’s network, governments also are asking for the access key to decrypt messsages so that they can be read.

RIM has been consistent in saying that its security infrastructure prevents it and any other third party to gain access to customer information.

“RIM truly has no ability to provide its customers’ encryption keys,” the company said in its latest statement. “Contrary to rumours, the security architecture is the same around the world. No changes have been made in the security architecture for BlackBerry Enterprise Server customers.”

Meanwhile, the smartphone maker is asking industry regulators for equal treatment, that they should not be asking for more information on BlackBerry services than they are already getting from RIM’s competitors.

“The carriers’ capabilities must be technology and vendor neutral,  allowing no greater access to BlackBerry consumer services than the carriers and regulators already impose on RIM’s competitors,” the statement said.

It added: “RIM has drawn a firm line by insisting that any capabilities it provides to carriers for lawful access purposes be limited to the strict context of lawful access and national security requirements as governed by the country’s judicial oversight and rule of law.”

Suspension of certain BlackBerry services not only affect local users but also travellers who increasingly rely on email and other mobile web-based applications to communicate with colleagues, partners and customers while on the road.

Alisha Haridasani

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