India demands more access to Blackberry emails

RIM has hit back at demands by Indian authorities for more power to monitor the email data sent from its Blackberry handsets.

According to Robert Crow, vice president of industry and government relations for Research in Motion, the country’s Home Ministry, which is responsible for domestic security, has told the firm that it will require the ability to intercept communication data sent via the email capabilities of the handset.

This has raised serious concerns for the user’s privacy, a feature that is of central importance to the traditional business orientated user of the RIM phone, with the company saying it prides itself on high security.

According to Crow these demands could potentially open up the doors to further problems, such as whether the government tracking of ambassadorial conversations or even transfer of financial files would be off limits.

“You connect those dots and you’re saying, ‘Holy smokes,’ ” said Crow.

“This claim is made in an environment where we don’t really have any privacy – or data-protection laws – and where we have a pretty poor administrative record of keeping similar things like wiretaps secret.”

Although there has been no comment from the Indian authorities on the matter so far, it is widely thought that such measures would be demanded under the pretence of maintaining the country’s ability to monitor terrorist activity.

Of course it is not the first time that RIM has been subject to data access demands from the Indian government, with an ongoing saga over access to its messenger service and corporate email service.

At the time Crow added to the standoff by claiming RIM would be unable to provide Indian authorities with full access to data as it did not have the relevant master key to encrypted codes, steadfastly refusing demands by stating that: “There is no possibility of us providing any kind of a solution. There is no solution, there are no keys to be handed.”

RIM also said at the time that it would not change its operational methods for any of the countries that it operates in, so it will be interesting to see if another stalemate ensues.

“I think this may well go on and on in India, and frankly it will be one of those factors that people talk about in the Indian business environment—not one that will be seen in India’s favour in international comparison,” Crow said.

Crow at least appears relieved that it is not only RIM which is facing the wrath of Indian security agencies, with other services such as virtual private networks  and peer to peer messaging services also facing calls for more access according to Crow.

He also claimed to be optimistic over the intervention of India’s telecoms ministry, which he believes could lead to a quicker resolution due to its greater understanding of technological problems surrounding the handsets. 

According to the Wall Street Journal, there have not been any government set deadlines for adherence or response to these demands, though Indian media is claiming that 31 March is the date for submission of plans to the authorities.