RIM Security System on India's Agenda Thursday

By Reuters - Print this article Print

Security concerns about the ability to not intercept messages from militants from BlackBerry devices heats up in India.

NEW DELHI/OTTAWA, May 28 (Reuters) - Research in Motion's (RIM.TO: Quote, Profile, Research) boast of rock solid security is set to haunt it in negotiations with Indian officials this week, as India worries that messages sent on the Blackberry cannot be traced.

A telecoms ministry official said the two sides will meet on Thursday to discuss Indian concerns that e-mail sent by BlackBerry devices pose a risk because the messages cannot be intercepted.

Wary of attacks by militants, the government wants RIM to install servers in India.

A spokesman for RIM in India declined to comment, but analysts said it could be hard to reach an amicable solution.

"My reading and interpretation of the story is what the Indian government wants to be able to do is tap into RIM's network operation center and be able to intercept and probably do keyword searches," said Sean Ryan, a mobile enterprise analyst with research group IDC.

"RIM is not set up like that and that's the security model...It's not the type of thing where they can actually view the messages themselves. They're just really passing this through."

The Indian government has already held a series of meetings with domestic mobile operators and with Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM, which has some 114,000 BlackBerry subscribers in India.

Telecoms minister Andimuthu Raja said last week that RIM had promised to provide a solution in two months.

But RIM told Indian customers in a May 23 letter that it could not accommodate any request for a copy of a customer's encryption key because it does not have a "master key" and its system does not allow "back door" entry.

RIM said its security system was designed to give customers confidence that no one, including RIM, could access the data transmitted wirelessly.

"Governments have a wide range of resources and methodologies to satisfy national security and law enforcement needs without compromising commercial security requirements," the company said in its letter.

RIM's sturdy data encryption is a key attraction for customers, but it has already caused concern for some governments, most vocally India and France.

Avi Greegart, mobile devices research director from market research firm Current Analysis said it was unclear what tight-lipped RIM has done to ease government concerns. "I'm very curious to see the resolution here," he said.

T.V. Ramachandran, director general of Cellular Operators' Association of India, said RIM could consider putting servers in India, while Internet security expert Vijay Mukhi said it is hard to believe that no one has a key to encrypt and decrypt messages.

"America has spent billions of dollars for monitoring the cyberspace. I don't believe they would allow BlackBerry to operate if nobody has the encryption key," he said, arguing that RIM could give security agencies rights to monitor e-mails. "Not real-time though, and not a blanket access," he added.

India has been touchy about Internet services, including Google Inc (GOOG.O: Quote, Profile, Research) and Yahoo Inc (YHOO.O: Quote, Profile, Research), according to media reports. Google has allowed Indian government access to decipher information from its social networking site Orkut.

"There is actually a concern," said Mukhi. "Terrorists do use technology and they would some day or maybe they are already using BlackBerry services. So how do you stop them?"

Bharti Airtel (BRTI.BO: Quote, Profile, Research), Reliance Communications (RLCM.BO: Quote, Profile, Research), Vodafone (VOD.L: Quote, Profile, Research)-controlled Vodafone Essar and BPL Mobile offer BlackBerry services in India. (Editing by Janet Guttsman)

This article was originally published on 2008-05-28
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