India threatens BlackBerry services block

India has given RIM until 31 August to provide unencrypted access to customers' email and instant messaging, but the company says that it doesn't have the ability
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor

India has threatened to block some BlackBerry services if the country is not provided with plain-text access to email and messaging.

Following a meeting between BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIM) and India's Ministry of Home Affairs, a spokesperson for the Department of Telecommunications gave a statement saying that the country was allowing RIM until 31 August to hand over keys for encrypted emails and messages, or face service suspension.

RIM risks losing out on a rapidly developing market, said Matthew Reed, senior analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media, in a statement on Friday.

"The decision by the Indian authorities to set a deadline [of 31 August] by which RIM must address security concerns or face a ban on its email and messaging services in the country is a significant one," said Reed. "RIM... risks losing access to the substantial growth prospects in the Indian telecoms market."

RIM issued a statement on Thursday saying that it will make "no changes to the security architecture for BlackBerry Enterprise Server customers since, contrary to any rumours, the security architecture is the same around the world and RIM truly has no ability to provide its customers' encryption keys."

The company added that it would only grant access to its systems "in the strict context of lawful access and national security requirements", and that "RIM maintains a consistent global standard for lawful access requirements that does not include special deals for specific countries".

RIM also wants any carrier capabilities to be "technology and vendor neutral", so that it is subject to the same standards as its competitors and other technology companies.

The Canadian company has recently had encryption discussions in several Middle Eastern countries including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The discussions have centred around the security implications of encryption on RIM's BlackBerry devices, which make it impossible for authorities to monitor traffic. UAE has said it will block encrypted email, browsing and messaging from 11 October.

Saudi Arabia was due to impose a ban on BlackBerry Messenger services on 6 August, but RIM was granted a reprieve after it worked with authorities to find an acceptable solution to banning the instant messenger app. The company reportedly agreed to place servers within Saudi Arabia.

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