/ 12 August 2010

India meeting on BlackBerry ends without decision

High-level government talks in India on Thursday to discuss possible suspension of BlackBerry services over worries about national security ended “inconclusively”, an official said.

The meeting between the Home Ministry and intelligence agencies did not come to a decision on whether to halt BlackBerry’s services if the smartphone’s makers failed to address security concerns, the ministry official told Agence France-Presse.

India is one of several emerging-market countries that have asked BlackBerry’s Canadian manufacturers, Research in Motion (RIM), to allow scrutiny of encrypted email and instant message traffic.

“The meeting was inconclusive. No decision has been taken and we will hold further talks soon,” the official, who declined to be named, said.

The row with BlackBerry, which has one million customers in India, comes as the country ramps up security ahead of the Commonwealth Games in October.

The meeting in New Delhi followed Saudi Arabia postponing a BlackBerry ban after a deadline passed for finding a solution that would allow authorities to monitor encrypted messages.

Home Ministry officials have said India could press for its own deadline for RIM to provide access to encrypted data transmitted via the handset.

The Indian government has previously warned it would allow telecom operators to offer only services that can be intercepted by the security agencies.

Government officials said RIM was not present at the meeting, which was attended by state-run telecom operator BSNL.

BSNL, government-run MTNL and a host of private telecom providers like Bharti Airtel and Vodafone offer BlackBerry services and have the legal responsibility in India to ensure security agencies can access all services.

Any suspension would likely leave BlackBerry users with the ability only to telephone and browse the internet.

India is the world’s fastest-expanding cellular market and also one of RIM’s key growth targets. RIM did not immediately respond to emails or phone calls from AFP.

India, battling insurgencies from Muslim-majority Kashmir in the north-west to the far-flung north-east, is sensitive about the risks of new technology and has raised fears BlackBerry services could be used by militants to communicate.

In Saudi Arabia the telecoms watchdog this week announced BlackBerry messenger services would remain online, as it reported “positive developments” in efforts to find a solution.

The United Arab Emirates has said it will ban BlackBerry messenger, email and web browsing from October 11 for security reasons.

BlackBerry is not the only company to feel heat from the Indian government.

The government has been restricting imports from Chinese telecom manufacturers because of intelligence agency fears “spyware” could be embedded in the equipment.

It has unveiled tough new rules for telecom operators and equipment sellers to tackle security issues, saying operators will have to take over equipment maintenance locally and will have to allow inspections. — AFP