Now India is threatening BlackBerry with shut down

13 Aug 2010

As the mobile industry wonders what kind of compromise Research in Motion has reached with the government in Saudi Arabia, India has become the latest country to threaten to close the service if its security services can’t keep tabs on BlackBerry data traffic.

The Indian government last night issued RIM with an ultimatum to either give it the keys to decode encrypted BlackBerry messages or face shut down at the end of August.

The move will be quite a blow for BlackBerry since India is one of the largest of the developing markets for mobile in the world.

As in Saudi Arabia, the post 9-11 geo-political landscape has led to a rise in terrorist organisations who are using electronic communications to organise themselves, plot atrocities and contact other terrorist groups. If anything, the subterfuge, paronia and danger in some parts of the world make the Cold War seem like a walk in the park.

India has said that if its demands aren’t met by 31 August it will close RIM’s encrypted BlackBerry Enterprise email and Messenger services.

BlackBerry has said that it is unwilling to open up the BlackBerry Enterprise system – which is used by many of the world’s top organisations – but will provide the encryption keys to its consumer services.

The company views its Enterprise system as one of its key commercial tools. Co-founder Mike Lazardis said that opening up the encryption will have implications not only for messaging but also for other important electronic communications such as electronic payments and fund transfers.

The fact that India, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East like the United Arab Emirates have threatened the company has marred the launch of RIM’s long awaited iPhone killer, the Torch.

Risks for RIM

“The decision by the Indian authorities to set a deadline of 31 August by which RIM must address security concerns or face a ban on its email and messaging services in the country, is a significant one,” said Matthew Reed, senior analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media.

“It represents a problem for RIM because the company risks losing access to the substantial growth prospects in the Indian telecoms market – and also because India’s rising status as an economic and political power could encourage authorities elsewhere to follow suit and take a hard line with RIM”, Reed said.

However, he said, the fact that a proposed ban on RIM’s BlackBerry Messenger service in Saudi Arabia was averted last week after RIM agreed to install a server in the country shows that there is some room for manoeuvre in these matters. The UAE authorities, which plan to ban all BlackBerry services from October 11, are also believed to be in talks with RIM.

“But India and the UAE are considering more sweeping bans than Saudi Arabia – the Saudi authorities only wanted access to BBM, which is arguably used mainly for consumer or personal communications, whereas the Indian and UAE authorities also want to be able to monitor BlackBerry email traffic, including corporate email.

“That puts RIM in a difficult position, because its corporate customers are likely to be more concerned about the security and confidentiality around their emails than that around BBM. With any compromise that RIM makes on the security of corporate data in order to remain in these key emerging markets in Asia and Middle East, it increases its risk of alienating its key corporate customers,” Reed warned.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years