NEW DELHI (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.
The Indian government put off a decision Thursday on whether to ban BlackBerry services over national security fears after a meeting of officials, intelligence services and telecoms operators.
A government official said Wednesday that the government could ask mobile phone operators to block BlackBerry messaging and email until RIM provides access to data transmitted.
An Indian government source told Reuters last week that RIM had proposed to share some details of its BlackBerry services but security agencies were demanding full access to a messaging service it fears could be misused by militants.
Indian security agencies suspect militants used BlackBerry services to plan a 2008 Mumbai attack in which 166 people died.
3G wireless networks due in late 2010 or early 2011 are expected to boost interest in BlackBerry devices. 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. In May, RIM launched a BlackBerry service with China Telecom, the smallest of China’s three mobile carriers.
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. Beijing often blocks websites on sensitive issues and requires Internet firms operating in the country to self-censor on those subjects.
The UAE, where RIM has 500,000 users, has proposed a ban starting October 11 targeting BlackBerry Messenger as well as email and Web browsing. It will also apply to visitors.
The Gulf state said it proposed the ban after three years of fruitless talks with RIM, which last year said state-controlled operator Etisalat had sought to install an unauthorized surveillance application on its devices.
It objects on security grounds to data being exported offshore and managed by a “foreign, commercial operation.”
Activists in the UAE say the move may have been prompted by messenger campaigns, including critiques of state officials and attempts to organize protests.
Mobile phone service providers have scrambled to hold on to half a million users by offering them a switch to Apple’s iPhone and other rival smartphones.
A source close to talks said Research in Motion had agreed to hand over user codes that would let Saudi authorities monitor its BlackBerry Messenger to avert a move by the telecommunications regulator to ban the service.
Such an arrangement would effectively give Saudi Arabia access to RIM’s main server for Messenger — for communications with Saudi users, the source said. RIM made no comment.
Most users in the biggest Arab economy are consumers. Messenging is used by Saudi youth to meet members of the opposite sex in a deeply conservative society.
Kuwait does not plan to follow the example of its Gulf neighbors by banning BlackBerry services, but has been holding talks with the manufacturer about moral and security concerns, the communications minister said last week..
He said RIM had been asked to block pornographic sites and the company requested four months to deal with the request.
Algeria’s government is reviewing the use of the BlackBerry and will ban it if it concludes the device threatens national security, a minister was quoted as saying last week.
Lebanon hopes RIM will provide a program allowing it to access information, a minister said last week. Lebanon’s worries coincide with concern over the integrity of the telecom network after the arrest of three people suspected of spying for Israel.
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 to keep his BlackBerry upon assuming office due to security concerns and the fact that presidential emails are considered public records. His phone received enhanced security and his address book was reduced to personal friends and senior staff.
U.S. law enforcement authorities need to obtain a court order signed by a judge 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.
Public bodies who want to gain access to past communications data must obtain a warrant from the interior minister, or permission from a senior police, defense or customs authority.
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.
The European Union’s commission has rejected the BlackBerry in favor of Apple’s iPhone and HTC smartphones. It reviewed its choice of smartphone against a number criteria, including security and financial impact, when it deployed a new technology platform in 2008.
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.
Many top ministers have since been issued specially encrypted smartphones instead.
The German government has urged staffers not to use the BlackBerry and several ministries have banned its use.
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 Reuters bureaux