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RIM CEO says lawful intercept is not his problem

Governments should ask companies for the keys

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RIM would be happy to help companies hand encryption keys to national governments, according to CEO Jim Balsillie who reckons that's the ideal solution to the lawful-intercept problem.

Governments should ask companies for their encryption keys, and keep a central register to enable legal interception of communications, according to Jim Balsillie who says that RIM would be happy to modify its software to integrate with such a register, though it's not prepared to weaken the encryption itself.

Governments are having a hard time with RIM's BlackBerry devices, which provide end-to-end encryption beyond the wit of all but the best-funded law-enforcement department. Several countries have demanded that RIM provide a technical solution for lawful intercept of communications, with India still planning to cut off BlackBerry communications on October 11 if it doesn't come across with the goods.

For BlackBerry customers relying on RIM-hosted e-mail, that's possible by locating the server within the user's country. But the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) encrypts communication from the office to the handset using encryption keys which aren't shared with RIM, or anyone else.

Governments would like a master key of some sort, or copies of all the individual keys, both of which they've formerly requested, but neither of which RIM is able to provide without changing the platform's architecture and/or critically weakening the cryptography used - either of which would cost the company dearly.

Thus the suggestion that a national registry could be set up, with BES users in concerned countries being required to configure their installations to send off copies of the keys generated. This puts the emphasis on citizens and makes it clear to end users that it's their elected* government that's demanding access, not RIM.

That's unlikely to mollify the Indian government, or anyone else, and the fact that Jim Balsillie is proposing it now bodes badly for next month.

At this point, two weeks before the deadline, the parties should be negotiating the details, not proposing entirely-new options. This news suggests that RIM is still searching for a solution acceptable to the politicians, or publicising the solutions it's already proposed, while time is rapidly running out. ®

* Where applicable.

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