Recap: Research in Motion (RIM) faced the threat that its BlackBerry smartphones would be banned in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia because of security concerns. The New York Times reported that RIM and Saudi Arabia have reached a deal concerning the cellphones, but Reuters reported problems remained for RIM in India.
Now, the Wall Street Journal reports on RIM’s negotiations with India over surveillance of the BlackBerry messaging service, which RIM promises customers is a “secure” e-mail system. The concessions reportedly suggested by RIM in these negotiations with India raise substantial questions about the privacy of BlackBerry users’ data.
In a series of discussions that intensified this summer, RIM offered to provide crucial information that would help the Indian government track down messages sent via the company’s popular and encrypted corporate email service, according to those familiar with the confidential talks and to minutes of meetings reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. […]
Governments are pressuring RIM to comply with their demands for information in part because unlike other smartphone vendors, it operates its own network of servers, the biggest of which is in Canada, outside their monitoring reach and jurisdiction.
That contrasts with devices such as the iPhone, which don’t operate their own email services. Governments generally have laws that allow them to monitor traffic on mobile and computer networks operating within their own countries. […]
According to minutes taken by the Indian side, the parties discussed whether RIM could provide “metadata” from encrypted corporate emails—information such as the email’s sender and recipient and the time sent. “After some persuasion, the [RIM] representative agreed that they can provide the metadata of the message,” according to an Indian summary of one discussion.
Cyber-security experts say such metadata would give government intelligence services important leads to locate BlackBerry traffic on corporate email servers, where messages are in decrypted form. It wasn’t clear under what circumstances RIM would agree to divulge such information.
In the meetings, RIM also promised to develop tools to help Indian authorities tap into third-party Internet chat services, such as Google’s Gmail, that run on its handsets, according to the meeting minutes. It isn’t clear whether or how RIM has proposed to help security officials decode BlackBerry Messenger.