RIM and the Middle East

It has been a little over two months since I wrote my analysis of RIM in the Middle East. At that time, much was open to discussion and debate, and many questions were waiting for an answer. Now, a lot has changed.

RIM has done great progress in the Middle East and hopefully will continue to do so, but it can not always be good news. During the ongoing struggle between RIM and the needs of Middle Eastern governments, it seems that security and especially consumer privacy have become topics of interest in the media. I shall warn you of the technical content in this article, but do not hesitate to keep reading. Please, be my guest.

Fear, uncertainty, no doubt

The battle between RIM and the Middle East, this is where all began. Before getting to the more interesting stuff, I believe it is of great importance to first define the cause of the "problem" that surrounds my subject. Consumer privacy plays a minor role here, because in many countries, including the United States, citizen activity is already monitored in one way or another. This allows intelligence agencies and other government bodies to record and archive every single move we make - in both our social and digital life. At times, however, even intelligence agencies experience a headache or two.

Let me give you an example. Picture an important enterprise with thousands of employees working together with international clients on a critical project. To protect trade secrets and other vital information from leaking to the public, the enterprise may utilize security solutions that are very difficult to crack, thus making it hard for Big Brother to watch any steps this company may be taking. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the infamous "problem" I am talking about. The problem extends to the point where in some cases lacking the ability to monitor a corporate network can actually pose a threat to national security. This is especially true for areas surrounded by tensions between bordering neighbors. This also is the point where BlackBerry comes into the picture.

I can almost hear you asking; "When it comes to security, why is BlackBerry always under the gun?". I am glad you asked and let me tell you what differentiates the BlackBerry from the rest: encryption, but not any kind of encryption. I am talking about end-to-end encryption, where data is never decrypted outside of the corporate firewall. Please notice that I mentioned corporate firewall, it is namely a BlackBerry Enterprise Server that can provide this type of encryption. And this is exactly what governments want access to; it is just too tough of a procedure to try and intercept the data that happens over a corporate BlackBerry network. It also is the reason why RIM is being pushed to come up with a "solution" to allow the monitoring of corporate e-mail - RIM came up with its encryption methods in the first place anyway.

Of course, it could be debated as to whether governments truly need that kind of access, but the problem is more complex than it sounds. In addition to fear of the enemy, misuse of a corporate network may occur in various forms such as exercising anti-social behavior, vandalism or engaging in illegal acts that go unnoticed by data monitoring devices used by intelligence agencies. Also, the potential for child pornography to exist on a corporate network is inevitable. Clearly, in the name of legitimate reasons, sometimes access to monitor a corporate network is mandatory. It should be noted, however, that no one - not even RIM - possesses any kind of master key or backdoor to a BlackBerry Enterprise Server. This explains why fulfilling the demands of governments is a task next to impossible for RIM. Or is it?

Stress, tensions and relief

A few weeks ago, when the Indian government pulled back from suspending BlackBerry services in the country, the words "for now" caused fear and anguish to many of us. On Wednesday, a report bearing important information on the subject came up and caused much buzz in the media. An agreement between India and RIM was soon to be reached on lawful access and monitoring of corporate e-mail, or so it was claimed.

According to the report, a series of meetings took place between RIM executives and officials from the Indian interior ministry and intelligence agency last week. The noteworthy? An interior ministry official was quoted for stating "[RIM] has in principle agreed to provide us recorded data from their servers." The news spread very quickly along with much speculation on the matter, but the claims were quickly denied. In an e-mailed statement, RIM said it "has once again found it necessary to address certain media reports in India containing inaccurate and misleading statements and information based on unsubstantiated claims from unnamed sources." To counter the claims of India being granted access to monitor corporate e-mail, RIM also added "the security architecture [for BlackBerry Enterprise Server] is the same around the world and RIM truly has no ability to provide its customers' encryption keys."

Now, the story gets flipped over once more. This time, RIM is confident in resolving the security concerns of the Indian government with mutual satisfaction; "our ongoing discussions with the government of India continue to be very positive and progressive, and we are confident that any outstanding concerns can be resolved to our mutual satisfaction." At the very least, this is proof of RIM actively trying to enhance its relationship with India, but a few questions come to mind requiring answers. For example, what does RIM actually mean with the words mutual satisfaction? Also, will India finally see its dream come true and be able to intercept corporate e-mail, or will perhaps a new regulation in the country require local companies to provide the Indian government with their BlackBerry Enterprise Server keys? Who knows, anything is possible.

For all I know, RIM has been very busy lately and internationally. And given that Indonesia saw the establishment of PT Research in Motion recently, I believe RIM has a few tricks up its sleeve to satisfy the home of parathas and gulab jamun as well. After all, India was blessed with an outstanding TV commercial a few days ago. I am fairly certain that a compromise will be agreed on very soon. And knowing RIM, the news will probably be very exciting. Remember when RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie said the Emirates is a market that RIM is excited about? I do, and I am looking forward to the day I can report the same about India too!

Conclusions and thoughts

Another day, another struggle I say. Thanks to RIM's efforts in the Middle East, little is to be afraid of regarding the future of BlackBerry out there in this big and wild world. Whether India will give in and drop the need for monitoring corporate e-mail remains a mystery, but I am positive that RIM will find a way to settle any problematic situations. After all, emerging markets have become quite important for our beloved innovative company.

But there is more. To me, RIM has become more than a simple manufacturer of smartphones (and soon, tablets). I mean, have you not noticed? It seems that while everyone else is fighting over the market share pie, RIM is focusing on making BlackBerry available to more people in less technically advanced countries. I must say that RIM deserves my utmost respect for this quality alone. It used to be Nokia and still continues to be today, but very soon BlackBerry is going to surpass the numbers and make headlines everywhere for its success as an international brand. And a quality brand it is, I must add. Thank you.