BlackBerry smartphones have been under fire around the world from terrorism-fearing governments. Now RIM’s revealed how it’ll let the Indian government spy on users, so the service can stay running. It’s not too bad.
RIM’s service trades on its security, which appeals to business users worried about their secret company data, but the system is so successfully encrypted that numerous regimes around the world have become worried that their security services can’t access messages sent on the devices. To those with a paranoid bent, this would allow terrorist or anti-government things to go on without surveillance.
RIM’s been involved in discussions with the Indian government for several months about precisely this problem, and the authorities have threatened that RIM’s service could be terminated in 2011. This now looks like it’s not going to happen, as RIM has consented to the governments wishes. It will allow access to BlackBerry Messenger communications inside India on a “case by case” basis, where “lawful” access requests are made. This means the government will have to follow due legal process to spy on BlackBerry users, on an individual basis, and with the consent of the courts.
This isn’t the continuous at-whim monitoring that some had worried would happen, since India represents a significant market opportunity for RIM, and losing it would’ve hurt the company’s bottom line–a powerful motivator to bow to governmental pressure.
Access to Messenger will happen by the end of January.
But there’s been no solution, yet, for government requests to access communications that route through the BlackBerry Enterprise Server system–the ultra-secure encrypted part of the service that even RIM doesn’t have the digital keys to unlock. This may have to happen through the phone networks themselves, and may also end up being on a case-by-case basis.
This sounds good for free-speech proponents, and security-conscious BlackBerry users, as long as they’re not terrorists–but the situation could easily change if the government acts to “slimline” the due process to gain access to user data.
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