Indian government sets Aug 31. deadline for BlackBerry to address security concerns

Thursday, August 12, 2010

India sets Aug. 31 deadline for BlackBerry info

NEW DELHI — India’s Home Ministry threatened Thursday to block BlackBerry corporate e-mail and messaging services unless the device’s manufacturer makes them accessible to its security agencies by Aug. 31.

The ministry said that if no technical solution is provided by then, it will take steps to block the services from the country’s mobile phone network. The phones are made by Canada’s Research In Motion Ltd.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have also threatened to cut off popular BlackBerry services unless they get greater access to user information. Like India, they’ve cited security concerns in pushing for access to encrypted information sent by the cell phones that gets routed through servers overseas.

India has asked for encrypted BlackBerry communications to be made easily available to its intelligence and law enforcement agencies, saying that the services could be used by militant groups.

The 10 heavily armed gunmen who rampaged through Mumbai, India’s financial capital, in November 2008, killing 166 people, used cell and satellite phones to communicate with their Pakistan-based handlers, according to Indian officials.

In its response to India’s announcement, Research In Motion Thursday said it has drawn “a firm line” in negotiations with governments. It won’t compromise on the secure nature of its corporate e-mail and messaging service and it won’t give any country “special deals.” Encryption, it said, is a fundamental technology required in any country that wants to attract and maintain international business.

India noted that it already has access to calls and text messages to and from BlackBerry phones, and to the consumer e-mail service. The threatened shutdown applies to RIM’s corporate services.

Canada’s international trade minister, Peter Van Loan, said the government has been “working with government officials in India to help RIM identify their concerns and find solutions.”

India’s announcement came after a meeting involving India’s home secretary, an official in charge of domestic security, and representatives of security agencies and the government’s telecommunications department, the ministry said in a statement.

The United Arab Emirates last week called for a sweeping ban on BlackBerry e-mail, messaging and Web services, saying the devices “allow users to act without any legal accountability, causing judicial, social and national security concerns.” It plans to shut off the services in October unless it works out a compromise with RIM.

Talks between the UAE and RIM are still ongoing, said a person familiar with the issue who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The person said the UAE is pressing the company to install a data server inside the Gulf federation. That move is motivated by a desire to ensure that information sent on the devices remains protected, not to stifle the flow of information as some critics have charged, according to the person.

“This has nothing to do with freedom of speech,” the person said. “It’s not an issue of access to e-mails. It’s an issue of protection of information.”

It was unclear if installing a server alone would address all the UAE’s concerns. The Emirates also remains concerned that BlackBerry Messenger could be misused by terrorists, the person said.

Saudi Arabia’s telecom regulator had ordered a halt to BlackBerry service across the kingdom last week but later said it will allow service to continue in the country for now, citing “positive developments.” It’s unclear, however, whether the reprieve is permanent.

AP Business Writer Adam Schreck in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, AP Technology Writer Peter Svensson in New York and AP writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this story.

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