Reporters Without Borders urges the Indian government to rescind an order it issued to national telecom operators on 13 February to suspend all mobile messaging services that cannot be monitored by the country’s law enforcement agencies, including the BlackBerry smartphone’s corporate email service, called BlackBerry Enterprise Server.
The move is the latest step in the government’s battle with Research In Motion, the BlackBerry’s Canadian manufacturer, for access to the BlackBerry’s encrypted services. Reporters Without Borders fears that it could lead generalized monitoring, filtering and censorship of mobile Internet services.
Citing national security needs, India had given RIM until 31 January to provide it with access to the encrypted data on BlackBerry Enterprise Server (http://en.rsf.org/india-india-gives-research-in-motion-13-08-2010,38151.html). RIM had previously given the Indian authorities the ability to monitor its consumer messaging services, including BlackBerry Messenger and email.
RIM finally responded on 28 January with a statement that it could not surrender the keys to BlackBerry Enterprise Server’s encrypted data because it did not have them. The only keys were those held by its corporate clients, RIM claimed.
The order issued three days ago to commercially-owned telecom operators Bharti, Vodafone, Idea, Rcom and Tatas and to state-owned operators BSNL and MTNL was the Indian government’s response to RIM’s statement.
Defending the government’s stance, interior minister G. K. Pillai said: “Our aim is to make sure that whatever goes through our networks, we should be able, if required, to intercept it (...) Even messenger services - they all said we cannot do it... Only when we said, OK, we are going to close it down, they came and said here is the solution. I have a feeling... under pressure they’ll do it.”
Pillai added that he did not want to extend the deadline yet again.
Indian currently has more than a million BlackBerry smartphone users and the number is growing steadily. RIM is currently under pressure from several governments about its encrypted services in countries where it is expanding rapidly. These governments all want to be able to monitor the BlackBerry’s services although the quality of its encryption is one of its attractions.
RIM announced on 20 January that it had yielded to the Indonesian government’s demand to block access to pornographic websites on its smartphones.