India permitted to intercept BlackBerry messages

Reports based on leaked Indian government documents indicate that BlackBerry is prepared to provide authorities in that country a means to intercept consumer messages sent through its system.

Under the agreement, it appears though that the government has abandoned its three-year-old demand to be able to intercept business emails transmitted over the BlackBerry Enterprise Server.

“Baring a few minor points for improvement of viewers, the lawful interception system for BlackBerry is ready for use,” the Times of India newspaper quoted an internal document from the countries Department of Telecommunications.

BlackBerry has provided India’s wireless carries with tools to enable them to fulfill local lawful access requirements for BlackBerry’s consumer messaging services including BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) and BlackBerry Internet Services (BIS) for emails.

“The lawful access capability now available to BlackBerry’s carrier partners meets the standard requirement by the government of India for all consumer messaging services offered in the Indian market place,” the BlackBerry spokesperson said. “We wish to underscore, once again, that this enablement of lawful access does not extend to BlackBerry Enterprise Servers.”


Ronald Deibert, director of the Citizen Lab and the Canada Centre of Security Studies at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, said he’s not surprised by the announcement given India’s ultimatum on gaining some sort of access.
On the other hand, he said, it is usual that according to the news report BlackBerry admits it its co-operating.

“I think it raises questions about what arrangements BlackBerry made with other countries now that we can assume their ‘no special arrangements policy’ is no longer in place.” What arrangements has BlackBerry made, he wonders, with governments in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Russia or China about lawful intercept?

While the report from India talks about lawful interception of some BlackBerry traffic Deibert said there’s an implication it “goes straight to the security services” without a search warrant.

BlackBerry could have refused comply with India, or be more transparent about what kind of data is beign seen by Indian authorities, he said. Another option was to join the Global Network Initiative, a group of academics, IT companies (including Microsoft and Facebook) and non-profits trying to get governments to respect freedom of expression and privacy.

“Instead it continues to be rather vague and less than transparent about what it’s doing.

The latest development at least appears to put to rest the long standing dispute between the Canadian smart phone maker and the Indian government.

India, in 2010, threatened to ban BlackBerry devices from the country unless it allowed authorities access to messages sent through its system. The government maintained that its secret services needed to be able to intercept suspected terrorist communications in order to prevent attacks.

BlackBerry contended that it does not have a “backdoor” feature that would enable encrypted messages sent through its service to be accessed by law enforcers or BlackBerry itself.

(With an add by Howard Solomon, ITWC)


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