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India claims access to BlackBerry comms

Long way from resolution, with only weeks to go

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The Indian government is claiming that RIM has offered it access to instant messaging conversations within hours of a request, though access to email remains unresolved with time running out.

India told Reuters that RIM has offered to provide transcripts of instant messaging sessions, with real-time interception available by the end of the year. But RIM still has to sort out lawful intercept to BlackBerry email by the end of October or face a nationwide ban, while BlackBerry users in UAE are looking at a ban starting at the end of this week unless RIM manages the impossible, and quickly.

The UAE will instruct network operators to block BlackBerry communications, including web browsing, email and messaging, from next Monday (11 October) unless it gets lawful access to all communications before then. Apparently this is affecting sales of BlackBerrys in the region.

Messaging services are routed through RIM's servers, so can be intercepted, as can email services hosted by the company. But where a company has set up its own BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) the encryption key is only shared between that server and the handset, so interception is all but impossible for RIM or anyone else.

Still, reality cuts little slack with politicians who are more concerned with listening in on criminals than understanding the intricacies of modern cryptography - as evidenced by the various calls insisting that RIM should be forced to hand over the mythical "master key" that would allow government's lawful intercept.

Last month RIM's CEO suggested that governments set up national registers and ask their citizens to submit encryption keys, pointing out that any government that wishes to eavesdrop on its citizens should make the request of those citizens, not an out-of-country supplier of IT kit.

It's a suggestion of which other governments might like to take note. The Obama administration is already making noises about requiring facilities for lawful intercept to be provided by every company involved in communications within the USA - but then it's much easier to bully IT companies than an entire electorate. ®

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