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RIM Says No To BlackBerry Monitoring As Stalemate Worsens

Research In Motion offered the Indian government some data concerning BlackBerry users but security officials want access to encrypted data and communications on the smartphone.

Research In Motion officially rejected India’s request for access to encrypted BlackBerry e-mails and messages, according to Retuers.

RIM reportedly offered to give Indian security agencies some details about the popular smartphone’s services and the BlackBerry security architecture, but the Indian government wasn’t satisfied with the proposed solution. India’s request follows a similar demand made by the United Arab Emirates, which recently said it will block e-mail, messaging and Web browser services for BlackBerrys by early October unless RIM allows the UAE security agencies to monitor users' communications.

RIM issued a follow-up statement to the press Tuesday, reiterating that the BlackBerry’s security architecture prevents even RIM from accessing users’ private information and communications. ’The BlackBerry enterprise solution was designed to preclude RIM, or any third party, from reading encrypted information under any circumstances since RIM does not store or have access to the encrypted data,’ the statement read. ’RIM cannot accommodate any request for a copy of a customer’s encryption key, since at no time does RIM, or any wireless network operator or any third party, ever possess a copy of the key. This means that customers of the BlackBerry enterprise solution can maintain confidence in the integrity of the security architecture without fear of compromise.’

RIM also objected to allegations from foreign governments that it gives Western nations, namely the U.S. and Canada, access to BlackBerry users’ information. ’There is only one BlackBerry enterprise solution available to our customers around the world and it remains unchanged in all of the markets we operate in,’ the statement read. ’RIM cooperates with all governments with a consistent standard and the same degree of respect. Any claims that we provide, or have ever provided, something unique to the government of one country that we have not offered to the governments of all countries, are unfounded.’

According to Reuters, RIM had offered to give the Indian government information such as the IP addresses of BlackBerry enterprise servers and the PIN and IMEI numbers for BlackBerry users in the country, but government officials felt those concessions didn’t resolve the underlying issue. India and the UAE have stated that RIM’s encrypted message architecture poses a security risk because terrorists and insurgents can use BlackBerrys to conduct illegal activity without fear of being discovered by the government.

RIM’s situation in the Middle East worsened on another front, too. As expected, Saudi Arabia said Wednesday that it also would block BlackBerry services unless RIM allowed government agencies to monitor data and communications. But while the UAE gave RIM a deadline in early October, Saudi Arabia has told the mobile phone maker that it has until Friday to open up its security architecture or the government will block all BlackBerry e-mail, messaging and Web browsing services.

This raises the stakes for RIM, which would prefer to put the controversy behind it and focus on more positive news like the much-buzzed-about release of the BlackBerry Torch. The situation with the UAE actually dates back to last June, when Etisalat, a wireless service provider in the UAE for RIM, issued an unauthorized software update to BlackBerry users that the company claimed was a patch for 2G to 3G handoffs. In reality, the patch was a spyware program designed to copy and monitor received e-mails on BlackBerry smartphones. RIM issued a statement saying the patch was not an official upgrade and offered users a free removal tool to rid their BlackBerrys of the spyware.

If RIM sticks to its policy and keeps its security architecture in place, it risks losing a significant number of customers. The UAE has approximately 500,000 BlackBerry users, while India has around 1 million users. If, on the other, RIM bends to government pressure, it could lead to a slippery slope for the mobile phone maker and upset BlackBerry users who value their privacy.

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