Recently, Blackberry has been making headlines in news sources all over the world because of the release of the redesigned Blackberry 10 OS accompanied by the new L series phones. The new efforts from RIM (which has been renamed as “BlackBerry”) may have saved the brand, which has been treading water since the iPhone and various Android flavors became locked in an epic power struggle at the top of the mobile market. The unappreciated Blackberry brand has attained redemption, to an extent, mostly because the platform is popular in the East and still highly utilized for enterprise purposes. Blackberry is quite popular in India, but efforts set forth by the Indian government could change how people look at Blackberry.
An article was published last week in The Economic Times about an effort set forth by the Indian government which would allow for intelligence agencies to monitor all forms of communication on a Blackberry device. Blackberry uses a PIN which is hardcoded into each device that allows the handset to assimilate into various environments. The Indian government would like to have access to the PIN for every device used in the country so that monitoring facilities could intercept conversations on the Blackberry Messenger (BBM) and have real-time access to email attachments.
RIM has been reluctant to accede to all of the Indian government’s demands because it would infringe on the privacy of Blackberry users outside of that country. I have shared information about the Voip-Pal and Microsoft patents for lawful interception, which is a sensitive subject in the US, though such techniques are currently utilized in other countries. Blackberry would probably need to file a similar patent in order to legitimately enable international interception. India now has the ability to monitor intranational communications on Blackberry, since RIM provided the Indian government with a master key which can decrypt conversations; however, it is not always possible to identify the person on the other end of an international conversation.
Former CEO of RIM, Jim Balsillie, stated in 2010 that he was happy to provide almost any government with a master key, which would enable intelligence agencies to decrypt Blackberry communications. This is part of the reason why he is no longer CEO. Many governments are seeking the ability to intercept communications, and though it could help thwart crime, enabling this ability could lead to the infringement of confidential information, including business information from companies abroad which could then be relayed to Indian businesses. India has cited the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai as the main motivation behind this effort is because it is believed by Indian intelligence that the terrorists used BBM service used for communications before and during the attack.
Since the shift in executive management at RIM, the Canadian company has become reluctant to meet India’s growing list of demands. India has further requested that RIM provide the government access to all Blackberry devices, including those outside of the country. American companies are very unlikely to accept this, as leaked proprietary business information could lead to a major loss if some revolutionary idea is stolen while in transit. Let’s also keep in mind that companies sometimes play hardball. Royal Dutch Shell, for example, has been accused of issuing death threats to nosey, big-mouthed journalists who share sensitive information. India’s demands could possibly lead to just as much violence, if it results in some government employee allowing information to fall into the wrong hands.