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India threatens to ban 1m BlackBerrys

Reads Saudi playbook

The Indian government is meeting with its network operators tomorrow, and is fully prepared to ban BlackBerry services if a timetable for lawful interceptions can't be established.

Until now India has been following the negotiated route, trying to convince RIM to allow its security forces access to BlackBerry communications. But now the government is threatening a ban, Reuters reports. This is unsurprising given how successful the same approach proved for Saudi Arabia.

Reuters quotes an unnamed government official explaining that tomorrow's meeting is intended to establish a deadline by which the security forces will have access to messages sent from BlackBerry devices, and that the government is fully prepared to cut off the country's one million BlackBerry users if a suitable date can't be agreed.

The Economic Times newspaper reported earlier this month that RIM had reached an agreement with the Indian government to provide copies of email messages within 15 days of the request. But given how RIM has bent over backwards to comply with Saudi Arabia, providing instant access by locating servers within the country, India justifiably feels short-changed.

Saudi Arabia asked for access, then threatened a ban and even started implementing it for just long enough to demonstrate it wasn't bluffing, before an agreement was hastily reached. It now seems that RIM will be locating a server or two (or three) within the kingdom, putting them under the jurisdiction of the local security forces.

India is apparently also miffed about reports that Saudi Arabia has been given some sort of cryptographic master key, and wants its own copy. RIM has repeatedly denied the existence of such a key, and since systems incorporating such a mechanism are inherently weaker it seems unlikely that a key exists.

RIM will probably be able to supply servers to the Indian operators, so they can be as subject to lawful interceptions by local authorities. Threatening a ban is just a way of getting RIM to move faster, and given how effective it was for the Saudis it's unlikely that India is bluffing. ®

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