India

BlackBerry finally relents

RIM, the makers of BlackBerry finally agreed to provide technical solutions allowing lawful interception of its messenger service even though the same was a commitment it had made two years ago.

While the government will be enabled to intercept its messenger service, the company officials reportedly did not budge on the BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) which provides corporate e-mails.

Sources revealed that RIM promised to first address the security concerns associated with the messenger service and then work out a different solution for the BES.

RIM officials were “optimistic” about resolving the issue of providing access to their services to the law enforcement agencies for interception. The decision will, however, not affect the other BlackBerry services — Voice SMS and email/internet — as RIM and the telecom operators have already adhered to the interception norms of these services making it possible for Indian agencies to tap it for security reasons.
Meanwhile, Google and Skype could be next in line.  The problem related to Skype is even more serious than that of Blackberry. It is well established within intelligence circles that terrorists and criminals routinely switch from regular mobile calls to Skype when discussing critical parts of a mission. This is experience based on hours of tapes that are available with security agencies.

Since the Skype conversation is encrypted, much like the BlackBerry Messenger data, it becomes impossible for the intelligence agencies to tap into a target even when they have identified him. In most other cases phone calls are the easiest to deliver in a simultaneous, real time, audible fashion, but that is not the case with calls made on Skype. And that’s why the Intelligence Bureau (IB) is particularly worried.

The situation becomes worse, because unlike BlackBerry which has a presence in India, Skype is not based here. Its executives fly in for business as required, with advanced notice. There is no way that the government can reach out to them through a legal or license route. The Skype software can be downloaded on any laptop and is ready to use. In fact the widespread use of Skype creates an even more serious problem than the one related to data by Blackberry.

Similarly security agencies have raised concerns about Google mail and want specific compliance on interception equipment related clauses to be met. Under normal circumstances, all emails of a pre-targeted terrorist or criminal element can be intercepted and monitored on a real time basis. So much so that drafts of emails written but not sent, are fair game for security agencies, as are any visits to the website or time spent surfing, etc.

However Google Mail continues to figure in the government’s list of companies that need to be brought into line and finds special mention in the briefing between home ministry and IB.

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