For months, Research in Motion (RIM)Â has been dealing with the threat that its BlackBerry smartphones would be banned in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, India and other countries because of security concerns â€” BlackBerries promise a â€œsecureâ€ e-mail service. Some foreign governments claimed that the Canadian company didnâ€™t comply with regulations concerning government access to smartphone information. The UAEÂ had dropped its threats to ban BlackBerry cellphone, butÂ RIMÂ had faced problems in negotiations with India, with the possibility of a ban for its products in the country.
Now, the Wall Street Journal reports that the negotiations between RIM and the Indian government are raising privacy concerns:
A top executive of BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion Ltd. said Indian security agencies are making “rather astonishing” demands for increased powers to monitor email and other data traffic, raising serious privacy issues that threaten to harm the country’s reputation with foreign investors.
Robert Crow, vice president of industry and government relations for RIM, said India’s Home Ministry, which oversees domestic security, wants the ability to intercept in real time any communication on any Indian networkâ€”including BlackBerry’s highly secure corporate-email serviceâ€”and get it in readable, plain-text format.
Such a broad requirement raises the question of whether the government believes any communications are legally off-limits, he said, including email conversations of foreign ambassadors and financial records that get transmitted over secure telecommunications networks to Indian outsourcing companies. […]
A spokesman for India’s Home Ministry declined to comment. Government officials in India have previously said they want to ensure suspected terrorists and criminals can’t elude government surveillance by using newfangled communications technologies. Under current Indian law, the home secretaryâ€”the top bureaucrat in the Home Ministryâ€”authorizes all telecom surveillance by central-government agencies for 60 days at a time. […]
It isn’t clear whether the Indian government has set any firm deadline for when it should gain access to BlackBerry corporate-email and other services and whether it would take the drastic measure of shutting down services that aren’t compliant. Indian media reports have said the government has told Indian telecom operators to submit plans by March 31 showing how they would accommodate security agencies’ demands. But the government has made no announcement to that effect.