RIM Caves to India on BlackBerry Messenger but Ban Still Possible

Image of a BlackBerry smart phone with India's flag displayedBlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIM) has agreed to India’s demands to allow the interception of BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) communications within the country but a ban is still possible. Why? Because even though RIM is working to give India access to BBMs, its BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) system does not let RIM access the encrypted communications of its client businesses even though the data ends up being stored on RIM’s servers in Canada.

India is trying to force companies within its borders to surrender access to their BES systems but this is much easier said than done. The country claims that because of security risks from potential terrorist attackers plotting and communicating via encrypted BlackBerry handsets, it needs the information. RIM however maintains that it does not make deals with individual countries and that it is committed to ensuring the privacy of its customers’ encrypted information.

So which side is right here? RIM plans on having its BBM interception system in place for India by the end of January but India’s Home Secretary has stated that this was a “target date.” RIM will also only allow India access to BBMs through legal process, not unfettered access to the communications between RIM’s popular BlackBerry smart phones.

The reason why BBMs can be provided by RIM to India is that they are not encrypted like BES emails. Instead they are simply scrambled and compressed. RIM has the ability to intercept, decode and provide them to governments unlike information shared through its BES service. Of course, this will make it more likely for potential terrorists to avoid using BBM and instead just send encrypted email messages back and forth. Unsurprisingly, many email encryption systems already exist besides RIM’s and it is highly unlikely that India will ever be able to gain access to these. Businesses that comply with India’s requests for access to their email systems are also highly unlikely to harbor terrorists or criminals.

Critics of India’s demands for access to encrypted BB communications note that it is unlikely that any steps that either India or RIM can make will be able to put a dent in terrorists plots and traditional law enforcement techniques should be used instead of wasting time over this. Also, it is often more effective to simply hack into users’ smartphones than to try to bypass encryption. Long story short, this is all a big fuss over nothing.

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