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BlackBerry raises security concerns
Surajeet Das Gupta & Rajesh Kurup in New Delhi/Mumbai
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March 10, 2008 08:14 IST

Canadian communications major Research In Motion (RIM), owners of the BlackBerry brand of mobile phones, has assured the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) that it would sort out the BlackBerry tangle by initiating discussions between security agencies of Canada and India.

The move comes in response to a government notice directing BlackBerry service providers to stop services by December 31, 2007. The ministry had cited security concerns as it could not monitor the content as RIM's servers were located in Canada and other locations abroad.

The Indian service providers say that they had responded to the government notice. While some sought a few clarifications, others asked for an extension till March end, which was granted by the ministry.

In a meeting with DoT last week, RIM executives assured DoT that it will work with the department, the Canadian embassy and the security agencies of both countries regarding the international lawful process of access to data, sources familiar with the developments said. 

RIM has also informed the licensor that the operators who provide BlackBerry services in India (Bharti Airtel [Get Quote], Vodafone-Essar, BPL Mobile and Reliance Communications [Get Quote]) would submit a summary of information, including data like authentication server information, to the intelligence agencies. An authentication server checks the veracity of the user before allowing it to access the data.

A spokesperson of RIM in India said, "We operate in over 130 countries around the world and respect the regulatory requirements of governments. RIM does not comment on confidential regulatory matters or speculation on such matters in any given country."

BlackBerry is famous for its push-mail services that deliver mails as and when it receives, and has over 12 million customers across the world.

Even though the company does not provide country-specific numbers, it is estimated that there are around 400,000 corporate customers in India.

The BlackBerry controversy erupted when DoT rejected an application by Tata Teleservices [Get Quote] to offer BlackBerry services to its customers on the ground that the service cannot be allowed in the absence of a "lawful interface."

In simple terms, it means that some of the key servers of RIM are in Canada and hence the security agencies do not have access to that information leading to security-related issues.

However, the Tatas wrote back to the government and raised the question as to how other operators were given permission while theirs have been rejected.

Top members of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) who have been in dialogue with the government say that such monitoring is not undertaken anywhere in the world.

"What you are trying to create is a police state, you want to monitor every mail which emanates out of a server which is not in India. With that logic, all email services should be closed down".

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