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India gives BlackBerry reprieve, eyeballs Google, Skype

60 days to prove lack of security

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The Indian government has granted BlackBerry users a two-month stay of execution, while it evaluates RIM's latest interception facility and serves notice to Google and Skype.

It's far from clear what RIM has promised the Indian government - neither party is prepared to provide details - but it's obviously enough for the Indians to consider that battle over and issue notice to both Google and Skype that they are next, while it spends the next 60 working out if RIM's offering is good enough.

"Any communication through the telecom networks should be accessible to the law enforcement agencies" pointed out the statement from India's Ministry of Home Affairs. "RIM have made certain proposals for lawful access by law enforcement agencies and these would be operationalized immediately."

So some interception will be working from tomorrow morning (1 September), but the service still needs two months evaluation to be sure it's good enough.

We've already suggested that locating RIM a server within the country will enable lawful intercept, for customers that don't run their own BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES), and it seems likely that this is what's being provided initially. (Even if the server isn't physically located within India, there's little moral problem with RIM offering equivalent access while an Indian server is being set up.) But intercepting communications between a user's own BES and BlackBerry handsets is far more difficult, and we can only imagine that this is what's being arranged over the next couple of months.

Still, that's enough of a victory for the Indian government to start working on Google and Skype, the Press Trust of India is reporting that both companies are being asked to put servers within India or face bans on their telecommunication servers.

Which will no doubt lead to both companies having to explain why this won't help - Skype and Google Talk are both encrypted end-to-end, so intercepting communications is extremely difficult. But getting that point across to politicians isn't easy, especially when said politicians believe that one company's unbreakable security has already been broken by the simple expedient of threatening a ban. And when all you have is a hammer... ®

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