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Indonesia puts RIM on two-week notice

Demands the possible, and the impossible

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Indonesian politicians are calling for RIM to provide lawful intercept and porno blocking, within two weeks, or face losing contact with the 1.5 million BlackBerry users in the country.

RIM has leapt to say that it would be delighted to do the latter, in the hope that its commitment will distract attention from the former requirement. Enabling lawful intercept to BlackBerry communications remains stubbornly impossible for technical, political, and commercial reasons.

Indonesia requires that internet service providers block access to pornographic content, as do those of most countries*, but because BlackBerry browsing is routed through RIM's servers in Canada, it is Canadian law that is applied. That should be easily fixed – placing a server in Indonesia resolves the issue – and RIM has reiterated how keen it is to comply with local laws in that respect.

But that's not going to help with the lawful intercept problem. BlackBerry messages are securely encrypted from the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) to the handset, so interception is next to impossible. RIM can place a BES in Indonesia, but anyone running their own BES will bypass that and thus be able to communicate securely.

That's very hard for politicians to understand, so they call for local servers in the belief that it will solve all their problems. RIM could provide a back door into its BES software, perhaps for local use, but that would be commercial suicide for a company whose reputation rests on its security, not to mention that every other government would instantly demand similar concessions.

But that's not the politicians' problem, and RIM constantly faces an uphill battle getting governments to recognise the limitations inherent in its architecture. Politicians would much prefer to paint an uncooperative foreign company riding roughshod over local sensibilities, as the Jakarta Globe quotes:

"We have repeatedly asked [RIM] to [block pornography] and we have given them some time. If they keep delaying, we will shut down their operation here because they fail to comply with our laws," said the Communications and Information Technology Minister – which is fine with RIM who'll be happy to comply with that request.

But the Minister, and the paper, clearly thinks that blocking of pornography and interception of emails can be lumped together, and will be disappointed to discover that while one is reasonable and easy, the other is all but impossible. ®

* The UK, for example, separates mobile providers. Fixed ISPs are required to block child pornography, while wireless ISPs have to collect proof of age before permitting access to anything pornographic.

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