Yank BlackBerry services, govt tells telecom firms
NEW DELHI: The government has opened a new front in its bid to get BlackBerry to fall in line on security concerns. Bypassing Research In Motion (RIM), the makers of BlackBerry phones, the government has now asked telecom operators to make arrange for interception and monitoring of BlackBerry's messenger and enterprise services in readable format by August 31, or block these services.
The operators are not in a position to defy the Centre since they run the sisk of losing their licences. With neither the government nor operators having the capability to intercept and monitor these services, a blackout appears imminent. According to Kunal Bajaj, director-India of telecom consulting firm Analysys Mason, this will impact some 4.50 lakh BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) users of the roughly 11 lakh BlackBerry user base in India.
BlackBerry's voice, SMS and regular email and messaging services involving Yahoo, Google, MSN and other providers will not be impacted. However, PIN to PIN Messenger Service and Enterprise Service, which travel in encrypted format, will have to be shut down.
The directive came even as BlackBerry agreed to provide security agencies 'partial access' to its messenger services by September 1 and 'complete access' by December. However, it has still not offered any solution relating to its enterprise service.
As far as BES -- which provides corporate emails -- is concerned, sources said RIM was likely to discuss the issue concerning access to its enterprise service in a meeting with DoT and security agencies on Tuesday.
An official said, "The home ministry will not budge from its position unless RIM comes out with solutions for both messenger and enterprise services."
Similar handling of Skype and Google is up next. Google mail finds mention in every government security-related document, though Google's India team claims it knows absolutely nothing about these security concerns. Security experts point out that no company is in a position to deny lawful access to encrypted data, anywhere in the world, so the disdain and disregard of these firms to India's security concerns is surprising.
Service providers are bound to comply with DoT's directive as they run the risk of losing their licence. As per the Unified Access Service Licence (UASL) conditions, service providers are required to make arrangements for interception and monitoring of the communication provided through their network. "If no arrangement or solution is made by 31.8.2010 for interception and monitoring of these services in readable format to the satisfaction of LEAs (law enforcement agencies), the services may be blocked as per relevant clauses of the licence in the interest of national security," the DoT letter to service providers reads.
"You may suitably communicate this to RIM, the providers of BlackBerry platform also," the letter adds, indicating the government's complete disenchantment and disengagement with RIM.
RIM had made a commitment to comply with the government's interception and monitoring requirements two years ago but repeatedly failed to deliver. Last week, the firm issued a statement saying it would cooperate for its Messenger Service but not for Enterprise Services. However, the home ministry found its stance unacceptable considering it recently agreed to hand over these codes in Saudi Arabia to avoid a ban.
"Even if a solution is found, it involves software add-ons to existing LIM (legal intercept and monitoring) facilities. This could take months since every service provider has different LIM facilities in different states," a security expert told ToI. India has 22 telecom circles and an average of 10 operators per circle, which implies 220 LIM upgrades, which have to then be vetted by as many as eight security agencies including IB, local police, local CBI, Enforcement Directorate, Narcotics Control Bureau, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) and Vigilance Telecom Monitoring.