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31 August 2010, 11:20

Two month breathing space for Indian BlackBerry users

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BlackBerry Logo India's more than one million BlackBerry users can, for now at least, let out a sigh of relief. The government has put its threat to block the mobile email service on hold for an initial two months. For BlackBerry, this is more than a little local difficulty – the fundamental principle behind its business model, the confidentiality of emails, is at stake.

The Indian government is demanding that Research In Motion (RIM) – the company behind BlackBerry – allows it full access to all emails. According to the German Press Agency (dpa), the interior ministry states that the company has made 'certain proposals' moving in this direction, which would now need to be put into practice.

The main bone of contention is the Blackberry Enterprise Service (BES) communication service for businesses. In order to protect company secrets, emails sent using the service are encrypted. RIM has repeatedly declared that, as a matter of principle, it would not allow third parties access to these communications. Customers alone control communications between the BES and BlackBerry devices. For RIM, email security is a key point in driving sales to businesses and government agencies.

However, this is a thorn in the side of countries such as India, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. They are concerned that terrorists, for example, could prepare attacks using encrypted email. The Indian government consequently issued RIM with an ultimatum that it must provide access to all emails by 31st August or be blocked. According to the dpa's interior ministry source, the government has now decided to grant a 60 day extension to its deadline while it examines RIM's proposal and analyses the situation. RIM has not issued any further comment on the situation.

Research In Motion seems to be caught between a rock and a hard place. On one side, business is likely to suffer if Indian companies can no longer rely on the confidentiality of their email. While, on the other, India is currently the world's fastest growing mobile phone market, in which all providers are aggressively chasing new customers. At the start of the summer, the BlackBerry service had around 46 million customers worldwide. The latest figures, due out shortly, will show whether the dispute over encryption has slowed the pace of growth. Research In Motion is also in talks to prevent its service from being blocked in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

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