India holds crucial meeting on BlackBerry security

The fate of BlackBerry’s encrypted email and messaging services in India will be decided in last-ditch talks starting on Thursday between the smartphone’s maker and security agencies ahead of an August 31 deadline.

Time is running out for BlackBerry’s maker, Canada’s Research in Motion (RIM), to give the Indian government the means to track and read its secure email and instant messaging services that officials fear has the potential to be misused by militants and to create political instability.

BlackBerry’s troubles in India, which could cut it out from one of the world’s fastest growing cellphone markets, are the latest in the firm’s global headaches as governments worry its encrypted services could be used for activities from terrorism to peddling pornography.

“Deliberations will go on for the next two days and a final decision will be taken on Monday,” a senior Interior Ministry official told Reuters. An RIM source confirmed the meeting.

“Hopefully they will come up with some solution,” the ministry official added.

Last week, India said it will allow BlackBerry’s messenger service to continue beyond an August 31 deadline after RIM assured India of manual access to instant messages by September 1, and automated access by November.

But the Interior Ministry said it will shut down RIM’s secure email service if access is not given to its encrypted email data. A shutdown would affect about one million users in India out of a total 41-million BlackBerry users worldwide, allowing them to use the devices only for calls and internet browsing.

RIM uses powerful codes to scramble, or encrypt, email messages as they travel between a BlackBerry device and a computer known as a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) that is designed to secure those emails.

Indian telecommunication officials said they had been told by RIM the only way an email could be intercepted is when it temporarily stores itself in a server in a decrypted form before it gets delivered.

“We will discuss all possibilities and see if we can come up with any solution,” another Indian government source said.

India is one of a number of countries putting pressure on RIM, which has built the reputation of the BlackBerry, popular with business professionals and politicians, around confidentiality.

Governments such as Saudi Arabia fear it could become a tool to plan militant attacks or for those breaking Islamic laws. — Reuters

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