CAIRO (Reuters) - BlackBerry maker Research In Motion is facing demands for access to its encrypted data in some of its fastest-growing markets.
RIM’s encrypted traffic is delivered through its network operating centers, based mostly in Canada, though corporate clients can choose to host their BlackBerry Enterprise Servers elsewhere. RIM says it cannot access data sent via its devices.
RIM does not give usage numbers by region, but research firm Gartner estimates that, of 10.55 million BlackBerry devices shipped in the last quarter, 1.4 percent went to the Middle East and Africa, 7.6 percent to Asia and 9.5 percent to Latin America. North America took more than half and more than a quarter went to western Europe.
Below is a factbox showing how different governments have dealt with concerns raised by BlackBerry’s encrypted data.
RIM will allow Indian security agencies to monitor its BlackBerry services, a newspaper reported on Tuesday, after pressure from governments worried about national security.
It said RIM offered to share technical codes for corporate mail and to open up, within 15 days, access to consumer emails in the world’s second-largest wireless market.
Security agencies in India, the fastest-growing wireless market in the world, suspect militants used Blackberry services to plan a 2008 Mumbai attack in which 116 people died.
3G wireless networks due in late 2010 or early 2011 are expected to boost interest in BlackBerry devices, which are offered by most leading mobile operators and number one million. India already has one mobile connection for every two of its 1.2 billion people and adds 16 million new subscribers a month.
RIM’s plans to enter China in 2006 were delayed by about two years, with analysts blaming Beijing’s demands that RIM prove its handsets posed no security threat.
RIM eventually began selling BlackBerry handsets in 2008 in a tieup with dominant operator China Mobile, but usage has reportedly been weak due to the carrier’s lack of promotion.
In May, RIM launched a BlackBerry service with China Telecom, the smallest of China’s three mobile carriers, which plans to promote the services more aggressively.
China limits ownership of its telecoms networks, due in part to security concerns, and has been slow to allow foreign operators to build their own networks.
Blackberry’s experience is part of Beijing’s broader effort to control the flow of information in Chinese society. Beijing often blocks websites on sensitive issues and requires Internet firms operating in the country to self-censor on those subjects.
The UAE says its threat to ban Blackberry email, messaging and internet comes after three years of fruitless negotiations with RIM, which last year said state-controlled operator Etisalat had sought to install an unauthorized surveillance application on its devices.
The Gulf Arab state objects on security grounds to data being exported offshore and managed by a “foreign, commercial operation.” Its ban, due on October 11, will also affect visitors.
Industry sources in the biggest Arab economy said operators were asked to block BlackBerry Messenging this month. Most users are consumers. Messenging is used by Saudi youth to meet members of the opposite sex in a deeply conservative society.
KUWAIT Kuwait does not plan to follow the example of its Gulf neighbors by banning BlackBerry services, but has asked RIM to block pornographic sites, a newspaper said on Tuesday. RIM has given “initial approval” and sought until the end of the year to implement the block, the paper said.
The State Department calls the UAE’s planned ban a dangerous precedent in limiting freedom of information, but the White House has had its own issues with BlackBerry.
President Barack Obama had to push hard to keep his beloved BlackBerry upon assuming highest office due to security concerns and the fact that presidential emails are considered public records subject to disclosure.
His phone received enhanced security and his address book was reduced to a small group of personal friends and senior staff.
U.S. law enforcement authorities need to obtain a court order signed by a judge in order to access call logs or data from a phone, BlackBerry or iPhone.
RIM’s system is considered so secure Britain’s intelligence community permits BlackBerry use to send and receive information up to a level where release could limit the effectiveness of military operations or compromise law enforcement.
In Britain, public bodies who want to intercept or gain access to past communications data must obtain a warrant from the interior minister, or permission from a senior police, defense or customs authority. The main grounds for such permission are national security, crime prevention and detection and safeguarding the economy.
Russia’s two biggest carriers began offering BlackBerry services in late 2007, after years of negotiations between RIM and the federal security service that did not involve handing over encryption codes. BlackBerry Enterprise Servers for Russian corporate clients are hosted by the operator or the enterprise.
In 2007, a French security agency recommended that cabinet ministers and President Nicolas Sarkozy stop using BlackBerry services due to concerns that the data might not be secure.
The SGDN was worried that RIM’s servers were located in Britain and Canada and might therefore be accessible to overseas security agencies. Many top ministers have since been issued specially encrypted smartphones instead.
Germany does not have an encryption law that prohibits encrypted messages, a spokesman for the federal telecoms watchdog said. Authorities need a court order to access messages, emails and other communication.
BlackBerry Enterprise Servers for Austrian corporate clients are located in Britain and operated by RIM, an industry source said. There is so far no law allowing the interception of encrypted email traffic, the source said.
Compiled by Alastair Sharp in Cairo with reporting by Doug Young in Hong Kong; Devidutta Tripathy in New Delhi, Georgina Prodhan in London, Leila Abboud in Paris, Nicola Leske in Frankfurt and Boris Groendahl in Vienna, and Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington, Editing by Lin Noueihed