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Indian gov says no plan to squeeze out BlackBerrys

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Indian telecoms secretary Siddhartha Behura has confirmed the country is not seeking a ban on the use of BlackBerrys, as the government continues talks with operators about lawful interception.

The suggestion that RIM's emailing handheld might be banned from the subcontinent surfaced last Friday when Tata Teleservices was refused a license to run a BlackBerry service on the grounds that communications were encrypted so couldn't be intercepted.

Tata responded that other operators were already offering the service, so a confused Department of Telecoms fired off letters to the other operators asking them to explain themselves, and set up a meeting to discuss the matter today.

There are about 400,000 BlackBerry users in India, and under Indian law the network operator is responsible for letting the security services intercept any communications. But with the BlackBerry services located outside India, that's technically impossible.

Intercepting messages can only be done with RIM's agreement, and so far the Canadian company isn't playing ball.

This is part of a wider crackdown on encrypted communications in India which includes asking ISPs to restrict themselves to 40-bit keys for web-based applications, something they are still fighting.

The availability of strong encryption has phased most governments at some point, and even in Europe there were attempts to ban its use on security grounds. Eventually the authorities realised a better strategy was to change the law to make forgetting an encryption key illegal, while simultaneously hinting that they could break any encryption if they wanted to anyway.

Generally there are easier ways of accessing secured communications, but putting the service in a different country, as RIM does, makes that a great deal more difficult. ®

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