India Pressures Operators For BlackBerry Intercepts

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Local mobile operators are being pressured by the Indian government for access to BlackBerry emails

The long running saga of a possible ban on Research in Motion’s BlackBerry service in India continues, with reports that the Indian government is putting pressure on local mobile operators.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, a government official said that the Indian federal home ministry is currently in talks with local telecom service providers to gain access to corporate emails sent and received through RIM’s BlackBerry devices.

The Indian government had imposed a deadline of 31 January for RIM to give it access to BlackBerry emails, over national security concerns that the highly-encrypted BlackBerry messages and emails makes them convenient for terrorists.

Failure to do so, the government had warned, would result in a ban on RIM’s phone services in India.

No Encryption Access

RIM initially asked for 18-24 months to find a solution to the deadlock, but then in mid-January it announced that it had provided the Indian government with access to the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service.

However RIM vigorously denied that it was able to provide similar concessions for the encrypted BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) email service, which is mostly used by businesses.

“RIM has now delivered a solution that enables India’s wireless carriers to address their lawful access requirements for our consumer messaging services, which include BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) and BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS) email,” RIM told eWEEK Europe UK in January.

“We also wish to underscore, once again that this enablement of lawful access does not extend to BlackBerry Enterprise Server, which is essentially an enterprise VPN solution,” RIM said. “RIM cannot access information encrypted through BES given that neither RIM nor the wireless operators are ever in possession of the encryption keys.”

India Insists

But this has cut little ice with the Indian authorities, and the two seem destined for a showdown after the 31 January deadline was passed with no compromise to satisfy both parties.

“We will insist they give us a solution for (the) enterprise service too,” Home Minister P. Chidambaram was quoted as telling reporters when the 31 January deadline was passed.

With the deadline well passed, there has so far been no resulting ban, but it now seems that the Indian government is looking to the country’s telecom providers and mobile operators to give it access to emails sent and received on Blackberry phones.

Licensing Loophole

It seems that the Indian government is using a clause in its telecom licensing laws, which permits government agencies to monitor and intercept all communication systems.

“We don’t have anything to do with BlackBerry. We are only dealing with (mobile phone) service providers,” Home Secretary G.K. Pillai told Reuters last Thursday.

“We will be setting a deadline with them,” Pillai said.

Pillai reportedly declined to name a date and provided no further details.

India is a thriving market with a growing customer base that makes it hugely attractive to mobile operators and handset makers.

A large number of mobile operators in India offer BlackBerry services including Bharti Airtel, Reliance Communications, Vodafone Essar, Idea Cellular, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam, Tata Teleservices, and Bharat Sanchar Nigam.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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