BlackBerry offers India solutions, wins reprieve

BlackBerry maker Research in Motion will give India access to secure data from Sept 1, a government source said on Monday, as the country looked to push RIM, Google and Skype to set up servers in India amid security concerns.

Late on Monday, the interior ministry said RIM had offered India a few proposals to access its secure data and that the feasibility of the solutions would be assessed within 60 days. It did not give details about the solutions.

Echoing similar concerns raised by several other countries, India has said it wants the means to fully track and read BlackBerry's secure email and instant messaging services that officials fear could be misused by militants.

Indian officials have also expressed concerns over security threats emerging from Internet-based messaging and other services from providers like Google and Skype.

The Indian government had given RIM until August 31 to come up with a solution that would allow monitoring of emails and avoid disruption of its services in the world's fastest-growing mobile phone market.

"They have given some access, which we will operationally from September 1," said the government source, referring to RIM.

"They will have to provide full access to all communications that go through India. They will have to set up a server in India," the source said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

A RIM spokesman based in India said the company had no immediate comment, while a spokeswoman at Google said they were unable to comment as they had no communication from the government.

Skype said it has also not received any directive from the local authorities in India.

Blackberry's Reputation

BlackBerry's reputation is built around confidentiality and any move under pressure from governments could hurt the device's popularity with business professionals and politicians.

RIM's rivals Apple Inc and Nokia could be among the biggest gainers if India blocks BlackBerry services. Nokia said on Monday it will host an email server in India from November 5.

India is keen to retain its position as one of the world's fastest growing information-technology nations, and a BlackBerry ban would jeopardize this, besides being counter-productive by limiting the efficiency and productivity of local firms.

RIM uses powerful codes to scramble, or encrypt, email messages as they travel between a BlackBerry device and a computer known as a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) that is designed to secure those emails.

RIM has said BlackBerry security is based on a system where the customers create their own key and the company neither has a master key nor any "back door" to allow RIM or any third party to gain access to crucial corporate data.

Besides India, several other countries have raised concerns about the popular device over activities from terrorism to peddling pornography.

Saudi Arabia, fretful over services such as online pornography, has reached a deal with RIM on the messenger service, a consumer product outside of the secure corporate domain. India too has reached a deal until November on the messenger service, according to government sources.

Such concerns also have been raised by Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, with the latter giving RIM an October 11 deadline.

Analysts see no easy fix to the standoff as RIM says it has no way of intercepting the data that countries want to access. RIM has denied media reports that say it provided unique wireless services or access to any one country.

A shutdown would affect about 1 million users in India out of a total 41 million BlackBerry users worldwide, allowing them to use the devices only for calls and Internet browsing.

[Source: By Bappa Majumdar and Devidutta Tripathy, Reuters, New Delhi, 30Aug10]

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