India BlackBerry users relieved as shutdown averted

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The Independent Tech

India's BlackBerry users heaved a sigh of relief Tuesday after the government gave the company a two-month reprieve on a threat to ban its messaging services, averting a showdown over security access.

Research in Motion (RIM), the smartphone's maker, has made "certain proposals for lawful access" to heavily encrypted BlackBerry messages and the situation "will be reviewed in 60 days", the government announced Monday.

The breakthrough came on the eve of a deadline for cellular providers in India to close down the Canadian firm's corporate email and messenger chatting services unless intelligence services could monitor them.

Now, after getting RIM to offer access to BlackBerry data, India aims to go ahead with plans to pursue Google and call provider Skype as it steps up scrutiny of encrypted communications, media reports said.

India, battling insurgencies ranging from Kashmir in the northwest to the far-flung northeast, fears encrypted data could be used by militants to plan attacks.

The proposals for meeting India's security concerns include setting up a server in India through which BlackBerry messages could be routed, the home ministry said in a statement.

Finland's Nokia, one of RIM's biggest rivals in India, said Monday it had already satisfied the government's security concerns by agreeing to install a server in India "for hosting mail and ensuring the government has access".

Analysts have said it would be a major blow for RIM, whose shares have lost more than 30 percent of their value in trading since the start of the year on the New York Exchange, to lose access to the world's fastest-growing cellular market.

For the government, a ban on BlackBerry services, used widely by India's elite, could have caused serious communication problems with the Commonwealth Games due to take place in New Delhi in just over a month.

Banning the service would have also created disruption for India's corporations, which widely use the Blackberry. BlackBerry has 1.1 million users in India, although not all of them are corporate clients.

"It would have been a real inconvenience, I don't know what I would have done. I use the BlackBerry all the time," said an Indian oil company executive.

Indian authorities plan to issue notices to US search engine Google, Luxembourg-based Skype and public telecom infrastructure provider Virtual Private Network (VPN) to make their services accessible to security agencies, the Press Trust of India reported.

VPN is a network that uses the Internet to provide remote offices or individual users with secure access to their organisation's network.

If they do not satisfy the government's demands, they will be asked to close down their Indian operations, a senior government official who spoke on condition of anonymity said, according to PTI.

"There will be no discrimination. All networks operating in India will have to give access to their services to law enforcement agencies," the official said.

RIM's proposals for "lawful access" to its messages would be "operationalised immediately" and their feasibility assessed, the home ministry said.

A RIM official told AFP the company had not compromised its public commitment to make no special deals with governments.

Analysts note other security-conscious nations such as China and Russia appear to be satisfied that their intelligence agencies have sufficient access to BlackBerry communications although the arrangements between RIM and these countries are not known.

BlackBerry has also been facing a threatened October 11 ban by the United Arab Emirates and has been negotiating with Saudi Arabia on security issues.