Last updated: August 13, 2010 12:23 am

India deadline for BlackBerry crackdown

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Research in Motion, the Canadian maker of the BlackBerry, has said it will not cut deals with specific countries while it attempts to co-operate with threats from governments around the world about blocking its services.

The statement came in response to a public threat by the Indian government on Thursday, which said it would block encrypted BlackBerry corporate e-mail and messaging services if its security agencies were not granted access to them by the end of the month.

RIM is already grappling with a similar threat from the United Arab Emirates if it does not open its services to scrutiny by October 11, and is also negotiating with Saudi authorities on security issues.

“Although RIM cannot disclose confidential regulatory discussions that take place with any government, RIM assures its customers that it genuinely tries to be as co-operative as possible with governments in the spirit of supporting legal and national security requirements, while also preserving the lawful needs of citizens and corporations,” the company said in a statement.

RIM said any access it granted governments and local carriers met four criteria – it was legal; the access granted to BlackBerry devices was no greater than that granted to other services; it did not change the security architecture for corporate BlackBerry customers; and it did not make country-specific deals.

The Indian government’s public threat against BlackBerry is running in parallel with an as yet unannounced decision to pursue similar concerns with Google, Skype and other communications services, according to a government document seen by the Financial Times.

The proposal was discussed at a July meeting between the Indian government and telecoms and internet operator associations. The minutes of a meeting between the Department of Telecommunications (Security Wing) and operator associations on July 12 was convened to look at a “possible solution” for interception and monitoring of encrypted communications by security agencies.

“There was consensus that there [is] more than one type of service for which solutions are to be explored. Some of them are BlackBerry, Skype, Google etc,” according to minutes from a meeting between the Department of Telecommunications (Security Wing) and operator associations on July 12. “It was decided first to undertake the issue of BlackBerry and then the other services.”

Department officials could not be reached for comment but representatives from two of the operator associations present confirmed the details of the meeting.

The Indian measures will ratchet up the pressure on RIM and other communications providers.

Like other governments, Indian authorities want access to BlackBerry’s encrypted corporate e-mail service and its tightly controlled messaging function amid fears these could be used by terrorists.

India, which is still recovering from an attack on Mumbai in 2008 by Pakistani terrorists that killed 166 people, is keen to increase security in the country ahead of the Commonwealth Games in October.

In a statement regarding BlackBerry, the Ministry of Home Affairs warned: “If a technical solution is not provided by August 31, 2010, the government will review the position and take steps to block these two services from the network.”

People familiar with the government’s position warned that security agencies were keen for access to all internet-based traffic.

“At the last security meeting, the agencies were talking about BlackBerry. They were also coming out heavily on Skype and Google,” said Rajesh Chharia, president of the Internet Service Providers Association of India. “They are tackling them one by one.”

Industry executives believe that by first taking on BlackBerry, known for its sophisticated encryption, security authorities may be hoping other providers will fall in line.

Skype did not respond to an e-mail request for comment. Google said it could not comment because it had “not received any communication from the government on the issue”.

Telecom operators said a corporate e-mail service provided by Nokia could also come under scrutiny. But Nokia has said it is in the process of installing infrastructure to meet government security requirements.

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