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RIM Seeks Industry Solution To India Stalemate

August 27, 2010

Research in Motion Ltd. (RIM) proposed on Thursday the creation of an industry-wide forum to address the security concerns of India’s government, which has threatened to shut down BlackBerry’s service unless RIM allowed its security agencies access to users’ emails and messaging by August 31.

The Ontario, Canada-based company said it is “extending an offer” to the Indian government in which RIM would lead an industry forum to resolve India’s security concerns.

The proposal is focused on “supporting the lawful access needs of law enforcement agencies while preserving the legitimate information security needs of corporations and other organizations in India,” said RIM in a statement.

“In particular, the industry forum would work closely with the Indian government and focus on developing recommendations for policies and processes aimed at preventing the misuse of strong encryption technologies while preserving its many societal benefits in India.”

“RIM has assured the government of India of its continued support and respect for India’s legal and national security requirements.”

India’s Home Ministry officials have been negotiating with representatives from RIM and wireless network operators over ways to breach the deadlock.

Indian Home Secretary G.K. Pillai is expected to make a final decision on the matter next Monday, a day ahead of the August 31 deadline, the AFP news agency reported.

“We hope for a satisfactory resolution,” said an official at India’s home ministry this week during an interview with the AFP.

RIM uses sophisticated codes to encrypt email messages between Blackberry devices and Blackberry Enterprise Servers.

Governments in several nations have voiced concern that such powerfully encrypted services could be used for nefarious activities, including terrorism and pornography.

Indian telecom officials say they had been informed by RIM that the only way an email could be intercepted is when it is temporarily stored in a server in a decrypted prior to delivery to the user.

India has long struggled with insurgencies in Kashmir and other parts of the country, and is concerned that militants might use the Blackberry services.

In 2008, Islamist militants used mobile phones to coordinate attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people.

India has already sent notices to mobile operators insisting that the nation’s security agencies are able to monitor all BlackBerry messages by the end of August.

By law, mobile operators in India must guarantee that security agencies have access to all services carried on their networks.

India is already able to monitor BlackBerry “consumer mails”, so any shutdown of BlackBerry services would only affect corporate communications that use the more sophisticated, higher-level of encryption.

Such a shutdown would affect some 1 million users in India, allowing them to use the devices only for calls and surfing the Web. 

RIM has said that singling out BlackBerry for the shutdown would be counterproductive, and would limit the productivity of local businesses.

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