The “Indian government vs. Research In Motion” debate heated up in August 2010, when the Indian government threatened to ban BlackBerry services in that country. Then the government demanded the ability to tap into BlackBerry Messenger and enterprise email services. RIM cut a deal that included two months of testing for an allowed peek into BlackBerry Messenger services.
Now the heat is rising again, with the Indian government asking telecom operators for plans allowing for the interception of services, including BlackBerry's.
RIM has maintained that keys to mobile networks belong to enterprise servers and that the firm will not be able to help tap into just any encrypted emails. If an agency has a lead, BlackBerry, along with corporate partners, is ready to provide data on individual mail IDs from the server level. But the BlackBerry email services are not available for unconditional interception.
The government maintains that any non-compliance will lead to shutdown of services.
It is a complicated problem, just like the carrying of liquids being banned in airplanes, or the TSA gropes and radiation checks in the US. No one likes it, it is inconvenient, and no one knows whether it is really worth it.
But India has a long history of terrorist attacks and actually ranks as the world’s second nation in terms of loss of life due to such attacks. It is a real problem, and security agencies have a tough job at hand. Modern terrorists have used high-tech communication gadgets for conducting recent attacks in India. The point is that terrorism is a real problem here, and the ability to intercept all kinds of communication is a fair demand.
But as an Indian citizen I want security agencies to work on scores of other security issues rather than chasing emails on BlackBerry. The security situation here is pathetic and highly reactive. The security at railway stations, markets, public places is very poor. The Mumbai attacks showed how unprepared we were, with our cops using Second World War 303 rifles against terrorists’ automatic weapons.
We have more than 700 million mobile phone users. Even with voice services open to tapping (and the Indian government has requested that, too), there is no guarantee that the government could accomplish any kind of intelligent interception. With millions of messages, the agencies could only follow a lead.
It seems like an ego issue for government to demand interception of RIM, not a security issue.
Still, I am not in agreement with Robert Crow either, the RIM representative who commented in this week’s Wall Street Journal. He raises various points about privacy. But for a country wherein voice and SMS are already up for tapping, what is the point of his argument? Crow is advocating a holier-than-thou approach when it comes to BlackBerry messaging, but all other forms of communication on the Internet are potentially interceptible as well. What’s he talking about?
All in all, this is a waste of everyone’s time in the name of security. But this is the trend across the world now: Human decency is losing its value in the effort to pretend to protect human life.
— Sandeep Amar, Website manager, MBA, and author