Research In Motion has agreed to provide the Indian government with access to BlackBerry Messenger communications on a case-by-case basis, according to a spokesman for the company in India.
The company will, however, only allow the government “lawful access” to these communications after following due legal process, rather than providing continuous access to the messages, the spokesman said.
The Indian government said on Friday that its security agencies are still not able to intercept and monitor in a readable format the communications made through RIM’s enterprise services. The government believes that terrorists are increasingly using mobile and online communications to plan attacks.
Voice, SMS (short message service) and individual e-mail communications can, however, be intercepted and monitored in a readable format by Indian security agencies, the government said in a statement through the country’s Press Information Bureau.
The government expects to have access to BlackBerry Messenger communications by the end of January, India’s Home Secretary G.K. Pillai told The Wall Street Journal.
A resolution to India’s demand for access to corporate email on BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) has however not been found. The Indian government is working on getting access to these communications from RIM’s corporate customers, Pillai said.
RIM has not made a significant departure from its earlier stand, despite negotiations with the government, and threats that its service would be discontinued in India if the access was not provided, according to analysts.
Following India’s demand for access to communications on RIM’s Messenger service and BES, RIM said in a customer update on Aug. 12 that it assures its customers that it genuinely tries to be as cooperative as possible with governments in the spirit of supporting legal and national security requirements, while also preserving the lawful needs of citizens and corporations. It maintains a consistent global standard for lawful access requirements that does not include special deals for specific countries, it added.
RIM however insisted that any capabilities it provides to carriers for lawful access purposes be limited to the strict context of lawful access and national security requirements as governed by the country’s judicial oversight and rules of law. The carriers’ capabilities must be technology and vendor neutral, allowing no greater access to BlackBerry consumer services than the carriers and regulators already impose on RIM’s competitors and other similar communications technology companies, it added.
The company however said that it would not be in a position to provide access to communications on BES, as its security architecture is the same around the world and RIM truly has no ability to provide its customers’ encryption keys.
RIM has maintained throughout the dispute over access with India and some other countries that it does not possess a “master key” nor does any “back door” exist in the system that would allow RIM or any third party to gain access to encrypted corporate information on the BES.
The BlackBerry security architecture for enterprise customers was designed to exclude the capability for RIM or any third party to read encrypted information, it said. RIM would be unable to accommodate any request for a copy of a customer’s encryption key since at no time does RIM possess a copy of the key, it added.
If the government is satisfied with access to BES communications through customers, RIM is spared any criticism that it has provided access to the Indian government to its BES, which it promotes as a highly secure service.
Unlike BES which carries information that is encrypted, communications on Messenger are merely scrambled and compressed, according to informed sources. It is possible for RIM or operators to provide these communications in a readable format to government agencies.