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Govt’s final call on BlackBerry services likely after 13 January

Govt’s final call on BlackBerry services likely after 13 January
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First Published: Fri, Jan 07 2011. 12 22 AM IST

Solution at hand: The minutes of a meeting of government, security and Research In Motion officials show the mobile messaging service provider is almost ready with possible solutions.
Solution at hand: The minutes of a meeting of government, security and Research In Motion officials show the mobile messaging service provider is almost ready with possible solutions.
Updated: Fri, Jan 07 2011. 12 22 AM IST
New Delhi: The process of finding a security solution to BlackBerry services in India has entered its last lap.
Representatives of the home ministry and the department of telecommunications (DoT) are set to meet on 12 and 13 January to make a final decision on allowing the services.
Solution at hand: The minutes of a meeting of government, security and Research In Motion officials show the mobile messaging service provider is almost ready with possible solutions.
“A final call will be taken after these meetings,” a home ministry official said. The meetings will be held at DoT.
Authorities fear BlackBerry’s encrypted email and messenger services may be used by terrorists to plan attacks.
They served an ultimatum to smartphone maker Research In Motion Ltd (RIM) to either give security agencies real-time interception access to its services or face a ban.
Two DoT officials said RIM has agreed to install its servers in India, but has sought 18-24 months for this. “During that time, they have asked that their services not be banned in the country,” one of the DoT officials said.
All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity.
Mint has reviewed minutes of a 29 December meeting of DoT, home ministry, RIM and Intelligence Bureau officials at which the RIM representative does make such an offer. A spokesperson for RIM said in an e-mail that “any suggestion that RIM is somehow enabling, or planning to enable, access to data transmitted through BES (BlackBerry enterprise server) is both false and technologically infeasible”. He added that the company’s dealings with the government “are very positive and on track”.
RIM has pointed out several times that it is not the only firm offering encrypted email services and, therefore, interception of email is an issue that needs to be tackled by the industry as a whole.
The Canadian firm has also said it does not have a key that would allow it to decrypt emails that are encrypted at the device level in its BES-based messaging service.
But representatives of DoT say installing a server in the country would make it easier for the government and other stakeholders to find a solution. “It may also be in the commercial interest of RIM to set up the server here,” the second DoT official said.
The minutes also show the mobile messaging service provider is almost ready with possible solutions.
For BlackBerry messenger, RIM has said it already has a manual solution. On a request from the government, it will use a Web-based tool to obtain chat communications in readable format for law enforcement authorities. The minutes cite the RIM representative as saying that the company will complete testing an automated solution by 31 January.
For the BlackBerry Internet service, IB officials said a solution provided by RIM was satisfactory except for the ability to open image files. The RIM official assured the home ministry official that a solution for this will be ready by the end of this month.
RIM and the government have been in discussions over lawful interception of the smartphone maker’s services for the past six months. The discussions are a part of the government’s initiatives to plug gaps in security.
The initiative has led to a ban on handsets without unique international mobile equipment identity (IMEI) numbers—used to identify a device on a network—and the ongoing discussion for a framework on importing equipment to set up cellular networks in the country.
At present, firms that import telecom equipment have to submit affidavits stating that they will be responsible if the equipment they bring in is found to contain malicious or dangerous software that can be used to hack networks.
shauvik.g@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Jan 07 2011. 12 22 AM IST