New Delhi: India’s home ministry revived its threat to shut down BlackBerry services because Research in Motion Ltd (RIM) was not providing it with information about users, raising the prospect of widespread disruptions to corporate email communications.
The move comes days after the United Arab Emirates (UAE) expressed concerns over “social and security risks” posed by BlackBerry services. The Indian government is considering the ban because of what it says is the threat posed to national security.
“We will ban BlackBerry services if they refuse to give government details of data shared by users. They have so far denied data on the excuse of encryption,” a high-ranking government official said. “There should not be any problem in sharing the data. If they can provide this to US intelligence agencies, we do not see any reason that they cannot provide the same to Indian agencies.”
The UAE authorities had said over the weekend that Canada-based RIM was operating outside its laws by sending data offshore for management by foreign commercial interests.
India has more than 400,000 BlackBerry users. The numbers have risen in the past few quarters as the smartphone maker has announced new partnerships with India’s telecom service providers, and launched cheaper handsets and services.
The department of telecommunications (DoT) had given RIM until the end of this month to provide access to its network. That move came at the behest of India’s intelligence agencies, which said that they were unable to decipher encrypted data sent on BlackBerry handsets. India fears that terrorists may exploit such blind spots to keep their communications outside the radar of the security agencies.
These agencies have asked DoT to ensure that all information shared or communicated in the country over telecom networks is made available in a readable format. India’s telecom service providers already allow the security agencies access to their networks on request.
RIM had assured the government of “all possible cooperation” when the issue was first raised two years ago.
“The government wants to know things like how secure the BlackBerry network is, whether it can be hacked and if the security agencies can access it, then how can it be done, etc.,” said an industry expert with knowledge of the matter on condition of anonymity.
He said RIM executives are travelling to India to address the government’s concerns. Mint was unable to independently verify this. RIM officials declined to comment and said that they weren’t aware of any moves to ban BlackBerry services.
“We have not received any official communication from the government,” RIM’s India spokesperson said. “We are awaiting this and at this point whatever we know is from the media only.”
DoT has called upon the Cellular Operators Association of India, the industry lobby group, to arrange a meeting with RIM. “DoT has no jurisdiction over BlackBerry as it’s not a licensee of the government. It only provides a value-added service,” said the expert cited above.