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RIM gets another Indian reprieve

Terrorists dash to their BlackBerrys for three-month free-for-all

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India won't ban BlackBerrys until next year, allowing RIM another three months to arrange lawful intercept, though the decision is not the good news it sounds.

RIM's problem isn't time, it's the impossibility of providing a solution acceptable to politicians keen to be seen doing something, and enterprises reliant on RIM's impenetrable security model. RIM's only hope is to spend the time trying to convince the politicians that what they want just isn't possible, as it has managed in the United Arab Emirates. But the very fact that the ban has been postponed means that effort has so far failed.

RIM was originally required to provide Indian security forces access by the end of August, or face a ban. Days before the ban came into effect, RIM was given another 60 days. This has now been extended until January*, with the Indian government saying that it will ask network operators to block communication with BlackBerry devices unless RIM can arrange for lawful intercept of communications by that time.

RIM has apparently already offered access to instant messaging, and web browsing sessions, initially after the event but switching to real time in the next couple of months. That can be achieved by putting a RIM server in the country, and thus subject to local laws on lawful intercept. That was enough for the government of the United Arab Emirates, which has rescinded its own threatened block.

But India wants to be able to read email sent and received on BlackBerry handsets. RIM's security model encrypts the mail on the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) using a key that is only shared between the BES and the handset, making that very difficult. If the BES is run by RIM then the company can intercept messages, but if the BES is run by an enterprise then RIM has no access to the keys and can't provide access to the messages.

Nokia has been quick to capitalise on the situation, citing Ovi Mail servers within India and promoting its compliance. The same solution will work for Hotmail, Google Mail and similar hosted services, but won't work for Skype or other peer-to-peer services that encrypt end to end, including RIM's BES mail.

So while an extension might seem like good news, it actually reflects the intransigence of both sides. It also extends the agony as RIM stands alone calling for industry unity, and the industry watches to see who is going to blink first - RIM or the Indian government.

* The exact date isn't clear at the moment. We've asked for clarification and will update when we have it. ®

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