BlackBerry Ban Threatened in India

RIM faces an Aug. 31 ban on BlackBerry Enterprise Service and Messenger Service, according to the Indian government, which has voiced concerns about BlackBerry encryption offering terrorists and criminals the ability to communicate undetected.

The Indian government has imposed a deadline of Aug. 31 on Research In Motion to open its BlackBerry encryption to security officials or risk being shut down.

"[The Department of Telecommunications] has been asked to convey to service providers that two BlackBerry services[,] namely Business Enterprise Services and Messenger Services[,] be made accessible to law enforcement agencies by August 31," a spokesperson from India's Ministry of Home Affairs told the Times of India. "If a technical solution is not provided by that date, the government will review the position and take steps to block these two services from the network."

RIM's solution will apparently need to pass muster with Indian security agencies such as the National Technical Research Organization. India's Department of Communications had previously voiced the belief that terrorists and other miscreants could send unbreakable messages thanks to BlackBerry's security system, which utilizes private encryption keys assigned specifically to individual users.

Other BlackBerry services, such as voice calls and SMS messaging, would not be affected by the Aug. 31 shutdown.

The Indian government may be studying RIM's recent agreement with Saudi Arabia, which wanted the smartphone manufacturer to enact similar changes to its devices' security profile. The Saudi government had originally threatened to shut down RIM's BlackBerry Messenger service by Aug. 6 if its concerns remained unaddressed, leading to several rounds of frantic negotiations.

On Aug. 10, Saudi Arabia's Communication and Information Technology Commission told The Wall Street Journal that the BlackBerry Messenger service will be allowed to continue, following "positive developments in the completion of part of the regulatory requirements on the part of service providers."

However, the exact terms between RIM and the Saudi government remain unclear, with the Commission saying only that it "continues to work with service providers to complete the remainder of the regulatory requirements."

India and Saudi Arabia could be the tip of the proverbial iceberg, according to at least one analyst.

"Countries in Asia and the Middle East that already have relatively tight PC Internet controls will increasingly turn their regulatory focus to wireless data services as they become more popular," Neil Mawston, an analyst with Strategy Analytics, told eWEEK. "RIM can probably expect more governments to come asking for negotiations in the coming months."

RIM has traditionally pushed back against government interference into its encryption policy, arguing that its corporate clients need the BlackBerry's ironclad security. However, governments and law enforcement officials have complained over the years that criminals gravitate toward BlackBerry for exactly that reason.

The BlackBerry Torch 9800, RIM's attempt at capturing both the consumer and business smartphone markets, officially launched on Aug. 12. In addition to a capacitive touch screen and sliding QWERTY keyboard, the device includes the company's new BlackBerry 6 operating system.