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16 August 2010, 12:46

RIM offers Indian government surveillance tools

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RIM BlackBerry Logo According to the Wall Street Journal, during secret negotiations, BlackBerry vendor Research in Motion (RIM) offered to provide the Indian government with information and a number of tools for monitoring email and text messages sent using BlackBerry mobile devices.

However, this does not mean that in future Indian government agencies will be able to read all messages. The BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) encrypts all sent messages and RIM stresses that not even RIM itself can decipher them. Government agencies will reportedly have to make do with metadata, such as the sender and recipient.

The company's BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS), on the other hand, is designed for non-business users. BlackBerry's using BIS instead communicate with a server hosted by their mobile provider. These messages are compressed, but not encrypted (unless the individual users have done so with their own software) and it appears that RIM may be helping the Indian government to unpack them.

India requires mobile phone providers to provide the government with access to customer communications. It plans to block 3G networks until a system to allow full line tapping is in place. It's not yet clear whether or not India is satisfied with the concessions made to date and negotiations are ongoing. India has been threatening to ban the BlackBerry service outright.

The BlackBerry vendor is also under pressure in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both of which are also demanding access to BlackBerry messages. The Wall Street Journal says that, although RIM wants to help mobile phone providers to meet national requirements, it's not prepared to rewrite its security architecture or to give governments better access to messages than its competitors. Although it is likely to remain impossible to eavesdrop on encrypted communications via the Blackberry Enterprise Server, the German interior minister is nonetheless advising (German language link) the German government and government departments not to use BlackBerrys.

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