India's BlackBerry Compromise Won't Solve Underlying Security Problem

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2010-08-30 Print this article Print

News Analysis: Countries from India to the UAE don't like secrets, especially when they're held by their own citizens, but banning BlackBerry is shortsighted and futile.

India and Research In Motion, maker of the BlackBerry smartphone, have reached a compromise in the demands by that government to have unencumbered access to the messages sent by users.  

RIM, meanwhile, is trying to find ways to ensure that its business customers have the level of confidentiality required by today's connected businesses. The two sides have reportedly reached a compromise, although the details of the agreement are not clear. 

Smartphone users in India make up a smaller proportion of the population than they do in the United States and Western Europe, which may explain why the government is getting away with its plan to force disclosure of BlackBerry message content.  

But still, there are a million BlackBerry users in the country, and those are a million people with money and influence, and the ability to speak louder than their comparative minority may suggest in a nation of 1.1 billion people. Perhaps this explains why the Indian government was willing to reach an agreement that won't shut off RIM's devices, at least for another two months. 

Unfortunately, the Indian government and the BlackBerry universe either are ignoring or are unaware of the fact that BlackBerry communications aren't necessarily all that secure. Cutting off the service will be expensive for the users who will need to go out and buy new smartphones, it will hurt commerce from outside India when users from the United States and Europe realize they can't communicate securely, and it makes the Indian government look like it's grasping at straws in its efforts to keep a lid on its population. 

Yes, it's true that India has had some tragic experiences with terrorism, and it's also true that terrorists need secure communications to hide from police and the intelligence services. But anyone who thinks they can evade the reaches of electronic intelligence by using a BlackBerry is in dreamland. All that banning the BlackBerry will accomplish is to force the use of secure communications using some other device. 

When you think about it, there's nothing to keep Indian users of some smartphones at least from encrypting their e-mail whether the government likes it or not. PGP is already available for Android devices and for the BlackBerry. 

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazine's Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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