RIM Close to Agreement With India Over BlackBerry Encryption Saga

RIM close to agreeing a deal with India over access to its servers. Capitulation, or plain business sense?


RIM is close to striking a deal with India over access to its customers’ emails and messages, according to reports today. The Canadian firm has been battling with the government over access to its encryption keys for some months, citing privacy against the authorities’ claim of security fears. With 400,000 BlackBerry owners in the country, that’s a lot of data to read.

According to an unnamed minister, RIM will provide officials with “live access” to the servers. “They have in principle agreed to provide us recorded data from their servers. Now they have assured us that they will discuss the issue first amongst themselves and find a way to meet our demands. Later, they would be providing live access to BlackBerry Enterprise Server.”

The BlackBerry maker purports to be “pleased with the progress” but added that there were four tenets to its agreement: that it was legal; that BlackBerry was not to be singled out for greater access than other services; that Enterprise security would not change; and that all customers were to be treated equally. The Guardian suggests that RIM’s climbdown does not necessarily mean that BlackBerry users are spared a blackout.

It is not just RIM that is in the firing line, however. As well as the country’s cellphone carriers, firms such as Google and Skype are also under pressure to open up their servers for inspection. Other smartphone firms, such as Apple, are less protective of user data, making security less of an issue. It is, however, thought that the terrorists who carried out the attacks in Mumbai two years ago, used BlackBerry to communicate.

There is no doubt that RIM will get stick for this decision–after all, being seen to be cavalier with one’s customer data is just not cricket. However, they are in an inenviable situation. India is an important market for RIM, which is on course for sales of around 600,000 units by the end of 2010–that’s 5% of the country’s smartphone market.

About the author

My writing career has taken me all round the houses over the past decade and a half--from grumpy teens and hungover rock bands in the U.K., where I was born, via celebrity interviews, health, tech and fashion in Madrid and Paris, before returning to London, where I now live. For the past five years I've been writing about technology and innovation for U.S.