RIM reportedly gets ultimatum over Indian BlackBerry service

Company must open its access to Indian government or face shutdown of its service, report says

Indian officials have reportedly issued an ultimatum to Research in Motion asking the Canadian company to provide a way for the government to monitor BlackBerry communications if it wants its service to continue in that country.

A report in Friday's issue of The Economic Times, based in Mumbai, India, quoted unnamed sources at India's Department of Telecommunication as saying that Internet service providers in the country would be asked to discontinue BlackBerry services unless RIM provided the government with a way to snoop on the communications.

RIM executives and officials at the Canadian High Commission have been informed about India's stance, the report noted.

The report also said that RIM was informed by Indian officials that the meeting, which took place last Thursday, would be the last one the government entertained unless the Canadian company came up with a way to meet the government's demands.

If accurate, the ultimatum would bring to a head an issue that has been dragging on for at least the two months, when Indian officials first began asking RIM for a way to intercept BlackBerry communications, citing terrorism concerns related to Kashmir. The Indian government asked RIM to either provide it with some sort of master key for unlocking encrypted Blackberry communications or to set up servers in the country through which communications could be routed and presumably intercepted as needed.

RIM did not immediately respond to a request Friday seeking comment.

However, in a communication to its 100,000 or so customers in India (a copy of which was sent to Computerworld ), RIM last week sought to dispel concerns stemming from its discussions with the government.

The company said that its BlackBerry security architecture is based on a symmetric key encryption system where the customer creates and retains its own encryption keys.

"RIM does not possess a 'master key,', nor does any 'back door' exist in the system that would allow RIM or any third party to gain unauthorized access to the key or corporate data," the company said in its note to customers.

RIM noted that the BlackBerry architecture was designed in such a way as to purposefully "exclude" the possibility for RIM or anyone to read encrypted communications under any circumstances. As a result, RIM was "simply unable" to provide any sort of key for unlocking a customer's BlackBerry communications.

The company also appeared to shoot down the Indian's government's suggestion that it locate a data center in that country. According to RIM, locating a data center in India will make no difference, since the data remains encrypted through all points of transfer from the BlackBerry server to the device. The company added that it was using the same architecture in 135 countries.

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Jaikumar Vijayan

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