central & south asia
India lifts Blackberry ban threat
Move comes after smartphone's maker agreed under pressure to give "lawful access" to encrypted data.
Last Modified: 30 Aug 2010 19:45 GMT

The banning of Blackberry services in India would severely hurt many companies that rely on securing client data [AFP]

India's government says it has withdrawn its threat to ban Blackberry services for at least two months after the smartphone's maker agreed under pressure to give security officials "lawful access" to encrypted data.

The country's interior ministry, which wants real time access to corporate emails and instant messaging, said on Sunday it would review Research in Motion (Rim)'s, the Canadian makers of the device, proposals over the next 60 days.

It remains unclear precisely what concessions, if any, Rim agreed to in order to avert the ban, which would hit about one million Blackberry users in the country.

"Rim have made certain proposals for lawful access by law enforcement agencies and these would be operationalized immediately," the ministry said in statement. 

"The feasibility of the solutions offered would be assessed thereafter."

Security fears

Security concerns flared after it was discovered that perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which killed 166 people, used mobile and satellite phones to co-ordinate the three-day rampage.

G K Pillai, an interior ministry secretary, met officials from the department of telecommunications, the intelligence bureau and the national technical research organisation, which deals with cyberintelligence, on Monday to discuss the phone's security issues.

India had given Rim until August 31 to address its concerns over security or face having its services suspended.

Rim had been reluctant to agree to New Delhi's demands for real-time access to encrypted corporate email, saying previously it is technically impossible to provide in any country.

The company uses powerful codes to scramble or encrypt email messages as they travel between a Blackberry devices and a computer known as a Blackberry Enterprise Server that is designed to secure those emails.

Striking the balance

Indian officials say they are not eager to ban the Blackberry, but are also not willing to compromise on national security.

Fears that the Commonwealth Games, a major sporting event to be held in New Delhi in October, could be a target for attacks have added pressure on the ministry to step up surveillance.

Striking the right balance between national security and corporate privacy is especially important to Indian outsourcing companies eager to secure client data.

"India is termed an outsourcing hub for the US and Europe, so data security is a primary issue. If there is any data leakage, we lose business,'' said Chetan Samant, a manager at a software association.

Blackberry's reputation is built around confidentiality and any move to undermine that under pressure from governments could severely hurt the phone's popularity.  

Discussions in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Lebanon and India, over whether to ban Blackberry services sent Rim's share price to a 16-month low on Friday.

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