BlackBerry maker RIM offers to lead ‘industry forum’ to work with India on encryption concerns

Thursday, August 26, 2010

RIM seeks broad industry-gov’t talks on encryption

NEW YORK — Research In Motion Ltd., which is facing a service shutdown in India next week over demands for access to its users’ e-mails, said Thursday it is seeking to involve other technology companies in its talks with government officials.

RIM, which is based in Waterloo, Canada, said it has offered to lead an “industry forum” on the use of encrypted communications, on which law enforcement can’t be easily eavesdrop.

India has set a Tuesday deadline for RIM to give access to the e-mails, or the service would be shut down in the country. There are about 1 million BlackBerry users in India, and travelers would probably be affected as well.

RIM is battling similar concerns in other countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In its statement Thursday, RIM said the forum would work closely with the Indian government to develop recommendations aimed at preventing the “misuse of strong encryption technologies while preserving its many societal benefits in India.”

“Strong,” or practically unbreakable, encryption is a cornerstone Internet technology that enables online shopping and corporate communications that’s impervious to spying by competitors. It’s used to secure e-mails not just on BlackBerrys, but on other smart phones as well, at least for corporate users.

Encryption also is used to secure Skype SA’s Internet-based calls and Google Inc.’s Gmail e-mail service. According to an Indian government document obtained by The Associated Press, it may shift its focus to these services once it deals with RIM.

RIM’s offer came well after business hours in India. A spokesman at the Department of Telecommunications did not return a call late Thursday.

Representatives for Skype and Google also did not immediately return messages for comment.

Earlier Thursday, Sachin Pilot, minister of state for communications and information technology, reiterated that Indian phone companies have to make BlackBerry e-mails available in a readable format by Tuesday.

The Department of Telecommunications has already sent formal letters to mobile operators, notifying them that they must find a way to allow Indian security agencies to monitor Blackberry data by month’s end to be in compliance with Indian licensing rules.

RIM says it doesn’t have the encryption keys for BlackBerry e-mails — only the phones do — so it can’t give any government access to the content of the messages.

AP Business Writer Erika Kinetz contributed to this report from Mumbai.

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