India sets deadline for Blackberry to give security access

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The Independent Tech

India on Thursday set an end-of-the month deadline for BlackBerry to allow security agencies access to its email and instant messaging or face a ban on the two widely used smartphone services.

India's Ministry of Home Affairs told the country's mobile operators that they would have to close down the two encrypted services if Research in Motion, the Canadian makers of BlackBerry, did not comply with its demands.

"If a technical solution is not provided by August 31, 2010, the government will review the position and take steps to block" the emails and messenger services from the network, a home ministry statement said.

New Delhi, battling insurgencies from Muslim-majority Kashmir in the northwest to the far-flung northeast, has raised fears the heavily encrypted BlackBerry services could be used by militants to communicate.

Islamic militants used mobile and satellite phones to coordinate the Mumbai attacks in 2008 that left 166 people dead.

India is the world's fastest-expanding cellular market and also one of RIM's key growth areas, where it has one million BlackBerry customers.

Telecom operators such as Bharti Airtel and Vodafone, which offer BlackBerry services, have a responsibility under India law to ensure security agencies can access all services carried on their networks.

The announcement by the home ministry came after Saudi Arabia on Tuesday postponed indefinitely a deadline for a BlackBerry ban as the ultra-conservative Muslim country reported progress in efforts to find a solution to its security concerns.

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

Earlier in the day India's home ministry and the intelligence agencies held a high-level meeting to discuss whether to halt BlackBerry's services if RIM failed to address security concerns.

RIM did not respond to phone calls or emails for comment.

But a top RIM executive paid what a government official described as a "courtesy" call Thursday afternoon on Home Minister P. Chidambaram.

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

Indian officials have suggested creation of an India-based proxy server to let them monitor data transmitted by BlackBerry devices.

Officials have complained that the encrypted messaging system operated by RIM prevents them from monitoring the content.

But RIM says it cannot open up its technology to Indian authorities. It has also noted that all corporate wireless message services have strong encryption, not just BlackBerry.

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