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India backs off RIM, starts on local operators

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India's government has given up pestering RIM and is now asking the country's network operators to provide lawful intercept capability, despite their inability to do so.

Having demanded that Research In Motion provide access to BlackBerry communications, and seen several deadlines pass without the issue resolved, the Wall Street Journal tells us that Indian government is now pursuing network operators instead, though one can't help wondering if that comes as a prelude to a ban.

Research In Motion is already providing intercept services for messaging, web browsing and email hosted on its own servers - as it does in every other country, with the degree of judicial oversight being set by the local government. But RIM has stubbornly refused to provide access to corporate email services on the grounds that it doesn't have (or want) the cryptographic keys necessary, and that has all sorts of governments upset.

Having threatened to ban the service, and repeatedly petitioned RIM to do the impossible, the Indians are now formally requesting the network operators provide access to the encrypted communications as required by Indian law.

Failing to provide for lawful intercept could put the operators' licences at risk, leaving them with no choice but to drop support for BlackBerry without the government having to risk a diplomatic incident by demanding a ban on products from a specific Canadian company, but it also shifts responsibility from the government to the private operators and sets a tone for the future.

The Indian government has made no secret of its intention to target Skype next, followed by other peer-to-peer services that lack a central key store. Being able to fine the network operators for carrying the traffic is a lot easier than playing whack-a-mole with those providing the services, and the Indians are adamant that national security can't be assured without exercising its legitimate intercept powers.

Most services terminate in a data centre where legal powers can be used to see what's going on, but peer-to-peer services present a challenge to law enforcement around the world as criminals of all kinds discover how easy it is to keep their communication beyond prying eyes. ®

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