India to reprieve some BlackBerry services

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India will allow BlackBerry’s messenger service to continue beyond an August 31 deadline, but could shut down its secure email service if access is not given to its encrypted data by then, a senior government source said.

A woman walks past a Blackberry advertisement billboard in Mumbai August 17, 2010. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

A technical team from Research In Motion began discussions with India’s telecommunications ministry and intelligence agencies on Tuesday, the source said, seeking to address security worries over some of BlackBerry’s services.

“Discussions have started today. They will continue this week and whole of next week. Discussions are on both the services,” said the source on condition of anonymity.

The government expects some sort of technical solution from RIM to emerge during the discussions, he said.

When asked if BlackBerry would be allowed to operate after August 31, he said: “BlackBerry services, including phone, SMS and Messenger will run, not sure about enterprise mail.”

Research In Motion has assured India of manual access to BlackBerry instant messages by September 1, and automated access by year-end. They are yet to get assurances for its more secure corporate email, sources said.

Also on Tuesday, at least three mobile operators confirmed they received letters from the Department of Telecommunications giving them a deadline to put in place monitoring capability for BlackBerry Messenger and secured Enterprise email services.

“We have received a letter ... asking us to ensure that legal intervention capability is put in place for BlackBerry services by 31 August 2010,” a statement from operator Tata Teleservices said.

New Delhi says it will shut down BlackBerry services if RIM does not allow access to its messaging or secured email, threatening its future in the world’s fastest-growing telecoms market.


India is one of a number of countries putting pressure on RIM, which has built the reputation of the BlackBerry, popular with business professionals and politicians, around confidentiality.

Governments such as Saudi Arabia’s fear it could become a tool for militants to plan attacks or for those breaking Islamic laws.

A shutdown would affect about 1 million users in India out of a total 41 million BlackBerry users worldwide, allowing them to use the devices only for calls and Internet browsing.

“The onus is on service providers to ensure that they have some sort of interception mechanism in place before the deadline ends,” a senior Interior security official told Reuters.

“It is binding upon them and the DoT (Department of Telecommunications), which is the nodal agency, will ensure that it is followed strictly, in the interest of national security.”

A source at one of India’s biggest telecom operators said the government wanted a “suitable interception and monitoring” solution in readable format for the law enforcement agencies.

According to a government source, RIM has already assured India of limited access to BlackBerry instant messages by September 1.

RIM has lost more than 11 percent of market capitalization since the beginning of August, when governments in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates said they would also consider a ban.

Writing by Krittivas Mukherjee; Editing by Rina Chandran and Will Waterman