RIM may allow India to monitor instant messenger service

The company has already indicated that it will not be possible to change the security architecture of its enterprise service

Research In Motion (RIM) has offered India some access to BlackBerry instant messages, according to media reports citing government officials. Talks however continue on the Indian demand that its law enforcement agencies be able to also monitor enterprise email, the reports said.

India said on Thursday that it will ask service providers in the country to ensure that some BlackBerry services should be made accessible to its law enforcement agencies by Aug. 31, or face a block of these services.

The Indian government is asking for access to Blackberry’s enterprise server and its instant messaging application. The government is worried that online and mobile communications are increasingly being used by terrorists to plan their attacks. The Indian government has also discussed about a month ago plans to demand similar monitoring of services from Skype and Google, according to a person who attended the meeting.

A government source on Tuesday confirmed on condition of anonymity that a tentative agreement had been reached in some areas with RIM, but did not give details. A spokesman of India’s Department of Telecommunications said that no agreement had been reached so far with RIM.

RIM’s India spokesman did not return calls.

In a customer update last week in response to the Indian decision, RIM gave a clue as to how far it is willing to compromise with the Indian government, according to analysts.

Setting out conditions for any capabilities it provides to carriers for “lawful” access purposes, RIM said that carriers’ capabilities should “be limited to the strict context of lawful access and national security requirements as governed by the country's judicial oversight and rules of law”.

Under Indian law, service providers have to give law enforcement agencies access to communications on their networks, under certain conditions, including by providing the keys for their decryption.

RIM however indicated that it was less likely to give in on its enterprise service. It drew a line on changes to the security architecture for BlackBerry Enterprise Server customers. Contrary to any rumors, the security architecture is the same around the world and RIM truly has no ability to provide its customers’ encryption keys, the company said in its note to customers.

Also driving RIM’s position is the fact that strong encryption is a fundamental commercial requirement for any country to attract and maintain international business anyway, RIM added.

RIM has already clinched a deal earlier this month with Saudi Arabia by providing access to some of its services to the local authorities, according to reports. The local regulator, Communications and Information Technology Commission, dropped a threat to ban some BlackBerry services, after RIM agreed to provide it access to servers located in the country, according to an official of the country’s regulator, who declined to be named. RIM did not issue a statement or comment on the developments in Saudi Arabia.

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John Ribeiro

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