Govt says BlackBerry must give access or face ban

NEW DELHI Fri Aug 27, 2010 2:11pm IST

A customer holds a BlackBerry handset at a mobile phone shop in Ahmedabad August 26, 2010. REUTERS/Amit Dave/Files

A customer holds a BlackBerry handset at a mobile phone shop in Ahmedabad August 26, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Amit Dave/Files

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India insisted on Friday it would block some BlackBerry services next week if the smartphone maker did not address security concerns, and government officials said they were hopeful for a solution soon.

Time is running out for Canada's Research In Motion to give India the means to track and read its secure email and instant messaging services that officials fear could be misused by militants and to create political instability.

(For Slideshow: Evolution of the BlackBerry, click here)

Executives of the Canadian firm will meet Indian government officials for a second day on Friday in last-ditch negotiations aimed at finding a solution ahead of an Aug. 31 deadline. The government has said it will take a final decision on Monday.

"We will only accept a solution which will enable us lawful interception of BlackBerry services in the interest of national security," a government official close to the talks told Reuters.

"The solution, if they come up with it, will have to go through field trials and satisfy our technical experts," he said. "The government's position does not change ... We are hopeful they will come up with some solution."

BlackBerry's troubles in India, which could cut it out from one of the world's fastest growing mobile phone markets, are the latest in the firm's global headaches as governments worry its encrypted services could be used for activities from terrorism to peddling pornography.

For a graphics on Blackberry's global woes, click link.reuters.com/ryr37n

India is one of a number of countries putting pressure on RIM for the same reason its BlackBerry device is so popular with business professionals and politicians: confidentiality.

The governments of Saudi Arabia and other nations fear it could become a tool to plan militant attacks or for those breaking Islamic laws.

SECURITY CONCERNS

RIM has offered to lead an industry forum to look at India's need to have "lawful access" to its encrypted email and messenger in an effort to stave off the blocking of the popular services.

RIM said singling out BlackBerry for blocking would be counter-productive for India, as it would limit the efficiency and productivity of local firms.

But India says nothing short of a solution giving access to secure email would satisfy security agencies.

"I think these concerns have been addressed in other parts of the world. I see no reason why the Indian government and its agencies should take any risk at all as far as technology is concerned," junior telecoms minister Sachin Pilot said on Friday.

Pilot said he was hopeful the company would offer a solution.

A shutdown would affect about 1 million users in India out of a total 41 million BlackBerry users worldwide, allowing them to use the devices only for calls and Internet browsing.

RIM uses powerful codes to scramble, or encrypt, email messages as they travel between a BlackBerry device and a computer known as a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) that is designed to secure those emails.

RIM has said BlackBerry security is based on a system where the customers create their own key and the company neither has a master key nor any "back door" to allow RIM or any third party to gain access to crucial corporate data.

(Editing by Sugita Katyal and Miral Fahmy)

(For more business news visit Reuters India)

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