India and RIM

Finally it all has come to an end; tensions between the Indian government and RIM are now a thing of the past. Although reports of an unsatisfied India surfaced quick and spread rapidly, something was missing. After all, RIM went through a lot during the struggle - Waterloo does not simply give up. But most importantly, the battle is over. Or is it?

As India is still unable to intercept corporate BlackBerry services, only the deadline for RIM to come up with a satisfactory solution is nearing. Sachin Pilot, India's Minister of State for Communications, stated that "voice, SMS and individual email communications can be intercepted and monitored by security agencies in readable format", but he also cited security agencies' inability to intercept and monitor corporate BlackBerry Messenger and e-mail communications. RIM commented on the matter, stating that "the (Indian) government has acknowledged that any potential policy or approach that requires lawful access to strongly encrypted enterprise data sent to or from corporate and government organizations ... would need to occur through the enterprise customers themselves since RIM has no ability to provide the customers' encryption keys."

RIM has stressed many times before that it does not possess any master key nor does any backdoor exist in the system that would allow RIM or any third party to gain unauthorized access to corporate data. In addition, Rajan S. Mathews, Director-General of COAI, has pointed out that the government itself must develop the expertise to decrypt messages, as encryption and decryption is its responsibility. Now, India has agreed to work with local enterprises for data access, and everything is progressing well. RIM also made it clear that it is fully committed to enhance the relationship with India; "We are confident that any outstanding concerns between RIM and the government of India can be resolved to our mutual satisfaction".

And there is more. The Home Secretary of India, Gopal Krishna Pillai, stated that RIM will not face suspension of BlackBerry services should the demands set by the government not be met. "We're trying to find solutions where everybody's interests are in one sense protected", Pillai added and stated that "it's going to take a little time, because it's a new technology." As India has initiated talks with some local enterprises, the response has been positive according to Pillai. He also noted that the January 31 deadline was "more of a target" than a hard deadline.

The fight is not completely over yet, though; if a satisfactory solution is eventually not reached, "then that service will then go, because I can't afford to have a black hole", as cautioned by Pillai. With the approval of Pillai in the Home Ministry, various intelligence and investigative agencies have authority to initiate landline or mobile-phone wiretaps of suspects in cases ranging from terrorism to drug-trafficking. Pillai revealed that about 6,000 to 8,000 wiretaps are happening in India at any given time and that most wiretap orders focus on tracking information about potential militant activity in Kashmir, due to difficult insurgency in the area. Pillay also stated that he is likely seeking changes to the country's telecommunication laws to emphasize the government's authority for intercepts of highly secure corporate communications. He indicated that the government has already initiated talks with other communications providers, such as Google Inc. and Skype Limited.

While the ongoing battle is nearing its end, it should also be noted that RIM is still in talks with Saudi Arabia as well. And only time will tell how that one goes - or like Pillay put it, "Technology is changing. The crooks are always one step ahead." But given that service providers in India are having a difficult time operating at the moment, I am not sure who the real crooks are. Something tells me there is more to this.

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