India demands access to BlackBerry messages, threatens to block services

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By Joe Leahy
Friday, August 13, 2010

MUMBAI -- India warned Thursday that it will block BlackBerry encrypted corporate e-mail and messaging services if local security agencies are not given access to them by the end of this month.

The public threat runs parallel with an unannounced decision to pursue similar concerns with Google, Skype and other communications services, according to a government document seen by the Financial Times. The proposal was discussed at a July meeting of representatives from the government and telecommunications and Internet operator associations.

The minutes of a meeting between the Department of Telecommunications (Security Wing) and operator associations on July 12 was convened to look at a "possible solution" for interception and monitoring of encrypted communications by security agencies. "There was consensus that there [is] more than one type of service for which solutions are to be explored. Some of them are BlackBerry, Skype, Google etc," according to the department's minutes. "It was decided first to undertake the issue of BlackBerry and then the other services."

Department officials could not be reached for comment. Representatives from two of the operator associations present confirmed the details of the meeting.

The Indian measures will ratchet up the pressure on Research in Motion, the Canadian company that makes BlackBerry devices, and other communications providers. RIM is grappling with a similar threat from the United Arab Emirates if it does not open its services to scrutiny by Oct. 11.

RIM declined to comment. Skype did not respond to an e-mail request for comment. Google said it could not comment, because it had "not received any communication from the government on the issue."

Like other nations, India wants access to BlackBerry's encrypted corporate e-mail service and its tightly controlled messaging function in response to fears they could be used by terrorists to avoid detection. In a statement, the Ministry of Home Affairs warned, "If a technical solution is not provided by August 31, 2010, the government will review the position and take steps to block these two services from the network."

People familiar with the government's position warned that security agencies were seeking access to all Internet-based traffic. "At the last security meeting, the agencies were talking about BlackBerry. They were also coming out heavily on Skype and Google," said Rajesh Chharia, president of the Internet Service Providers Association of India.

-- Financial Times

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