Operators to meet DoT to avert BlackBerry blackout

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New Delhi, Mar 9 (UNI) With the BlackBerry catching the eye of the security establishment, the users of the popular mobile e-mail service can possibly face a blackout if the Home Ministry has its way.

It seems to have started with the Tata Telecommunication's application for Blackberry service being rejected by the government as the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has several reservations behind allowing the country to sell the popular RIM product.

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has now written to the other BlackBerry service operators citing security concerns and they will have to confirm monitoring facility for lawful interception of data transferred through the device.

The operators have held talks with DoT and MHA officials, but a decision is yet to be taken on the future course of action.

The existing service providers are expected to meet the Telecom Secretary next week. They will reply to the Home Ministry concerns in 4-6 weeks.

Tata Tele had applied for license to offer Blackberry services as all value-added services have to have prior approval of the government to ensure that they have lawful interception.

''We have been told that the Blackberry services does not have scope for lawful interception, may be because it does not have a server in India and it may be difficult to monitor the content,'' Tata Tele Managing Director, Anil Sardana said.

Tata has already sought a clarification from DoT as to why only they were being singled out.

The Ministry's decision means the government must be able to access all communications through a mobile device at any given time, for national security reasons. Since a Blackberry does not allow for any interception, such a service is perceived as a security threat.

Other service operators like Bharti, Vodafone and Reliance are already offering Blackberry service on their networks. Apart from Blackberry, there are other mobile devices offering push mail and other e-mail services, which can pose a similar security hazard.

According to the service providers, BlackBerry works on a server.

So, depending on what operator you have, whether it is Airtel, Hutch or Reliance, that server can be intercepted by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

MHA argues that from one server to another, the data is first encrypted in one server and then decrypted in another server. The only problem lies in breaking the encrypted information. So, once that information gets encrypted, the security agencies feel that they will not be able to break that particular piece of information.

Developed by Canadian firm, Research In Motion (RIM), Blackberry is a patented service that allows access to e-mails on mobile phones just like SMS on conventional mobile phones.

It seems the government wants to follow China's footsteps and ensure that they have access to RIM's encryption for ''security purposes''.

BlackBerry, made by Canadian-based Research In Motion (RIM), is a handheld device that can send and receive email, besides offering other features of a mobile phone. It has virtually transformed the way many people work, giving them access to office communication from faraway places and often blurring the line dividing workstations and home.

Mobile phone industry analysts put the number of BlackBerry subscribers in the country at about half a million, and it would come as a huge blow to them.

UNI SR AK RN1730

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