BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM) said today it was "optimistic" it could avert a threatened shutdown by India of the core features of the popular smartphone on security grounds. A top-level delegation of the Canadian firm met India's home secretary GK Pillai to discuss the government's warning it would ban BlackBerry's corporate email and messaging unless it gave security agencies access to the services.
"I am optimistic," Robert Crowe, vice-president of RIM, told reporters following the half-hour talks. Mr Crowe's statement came as India's showdown with BlackBerry threatened to widen and encompass Google and the Internet telephony firm Skype as the country seeks access to any services that might be used by militant groups. "These are all issues that are being deliberated from a security point of view," an Indian government official, who declined to be named, said.
The government, fearful that extremists could use Blackberry's heavily encrypted messaging system to coordinate attacks, has given RIM until August 31 to provide a "technical solution" to its demand for security access. India is battling insurgencies from Kashmir in the northwest to the far-flung northeast and mounting Maoist unrest. Islamist gunmen used mobile and satellite phones to coordinate the brazen three-day assault on Mumbai in 2008 that killed 166 people.
India's telecom operators, already forced by the government to conform to tough new security regulations on importing equipment to ensure it is not embedded with "spyware", declined to comment on the ultimatum to BlackBerry. "We have to wait to see how the story unfolds, it is a very fluid situation," said an executive at one wireless company. Sanjay Kapoor, South Asia chief of top mobile operator Bharti Airtel, said earlier in the week: "Of course, we're aligned to the government as far as national security interests are concerned. We just hope customer interests are also protected."
The Indian deadline came after Saudi Arabia on Tuesday postponed imposing a BlackBerry ban as the ultra-conservative Muslim country reported progress in solving its own security concerns. The United Arab Emirates, however, has said it will ban BlackBerry messenger, email and web browsing services from October 11 for security reasons. In response to the Indian threat, RIM said in a written statement it tried to be as cooperative as possible with governments "in the spirit of supporting legal and national security requirements".
But it also wanted to preserve "the lawful needs of citizens and corporations". Analysts have noted other security-conscious countries such as China and Russia appear to be satisfied over their intelligence agencies' level of access to BlackBerry communications. Quoting minutes from a July 12 meeting between Indian officials and telecom and Internet providers, the Financial Times today said the government wanted a broad solution to enable possible interception and monitoring of all Internet-based traffic, including Skype and Google.
Google is already locked in tension with Beijing over state censorship and cyberattacks that the US company says originated in China, the world's largest online market with 420 million users. India is another coveted prize for communications providers. It is the world's fastest-expanding cellular market and already has 1.1 million BlackBerry customers. If the ban is imposed, BlackBerry corporate or "enterprise" customers in India would be restricted to using their handsets for phone calls and web browsing.
* AFP For more stories about BlackBerry go to www.thenational.ae/blackberry