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India gets access to consumer BlackBerry messages

But there's 'no back door' to corporate messages

Research In Motion has given mobile carriers in India the ability to intercept email and instant messages from BlackBerry consumer services if requested by the government, according to a customer update from the company.

The consumer services include BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service and BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS) email, RIM said.

But RIM is maintaining that it cannot provide access to its corporate service, the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES), because of the way the encryption is configured.

The Indian government is demanding access to BlackBerry communications as it fears that terrorists use online and mobile communications to plan and execute attacks.

RIM had assured the Indian government in October that it would provide access to BBM by January 31. The government did not put a deadline on when it wants access to communications on the corporate BES service.

RIM said the "lawful access capability" that its carrier partners can now use meets Indian government requirements for all consumer messaging services. The company said that it was assured by the government that its competitors are also required to provide the same lawful access capability.

RIM is just one of many companies under scrutiny from the Indian government, which has said it will ask for access to other online services such as Google's Gmail and Skype. Government officials were not immediately available for comment.

The Indian government will not have continuous access to communications but on a case-by-case basis that follows due legal process, a RIM India spokesman said last month.

RIM remains at odds with the government over the BES. RIM insists that it is technically impossible for it to give the government the customers' encryption keys on BES.

The company has said that it does not possess a 'master key', and no back door exists in the system that would allow RIM or any third party to gain access to encrypted corporate information on the BES, which is essentially an enterprise VPN (virtual private network).

As an alternative, the Indian government has gone directly to RIM's corporate customers to see if they are receptive to providing access since those companies hold the encryption keys, according to reports.

Last week, RIM agreed to work with Indonesia's carriers to filter out pornography websites as soon as possible for BlackBerry subscribers. The Indonesian government demanded that RIM block the content, and threatened to block the service if RIM did not comply with local rules.

The Indonesian government is also demanding that RIM set up a server in the country so that communications traffic from Indonesian users does not go abroad. It also wants the right to intercept communications for security reasons, a spokesman for the local telecom regulator said.

See also: Internet versus the government


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