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BlackBerry ban on hold, pending talks

New Delhi, March 12: The government has decided not to ban BlackBerry services while it holds talks to find a way to monitor emails sent from this hand-held device.

Manufactured by Canada-based Research in Motion (RIM), the mobile phone-cum-virtual office is popular with executives and has over 12 million customers across the world.

A meeting today between telecom department officials, mobile operators offering BlackBerry services in India, RIM executives and security agencies decided that a method would be found for lawful interception of data transferred through the device, officials said.

“Discussions will continue with all the members throughout the week on this issue, while no ban has been imposed on BlackBerry services yet,” an official said.

However, it could not be confirmed if the government would go ahead with its March 30 deadline to stop BlackBerry services in the country.

The Centre had issued a notice asking Airtel, Vodafone, Reliance Communications and BPL — which offer BlackBerry services — to stop the service by December 31, 2007, citing security concerns. The deadline was later extended to March-end.

But after Tata Teleservices revealed it was not granted permission to offer the service on security grounds, there was speculation that a ban might be imposed immediately.

Security agencies have always contended that since they cannot monitor content transferred on a BlackBerry — it is in an encrypted form and the servers are located in Canada and other foreign locations — it poses a threat. Militants can exchange information without security agencies being aware, they argue.

Encryption is the process of converting information into a form unintelligible to everyone except the holders of a specific key.

The government might ask RIM for access to its decoding key. The encryption technology, created by the US military, has been BlackBerry’s main selling feature as it provides subscribers with a secure messaging service.

Security experts, however, said technology was available even to intercept emails sent from a BlackBerry. “Data transferred through a BlackBerry can be intercepted and copied using ‘sniffers’ put on gateways,” said Rajat Khare, co-founder and director of Appin Security Group. Sniffers are software packages that can help intercept and understand encrypted data.

“RIM operates in more than 130 countries around the world and respects the regulatory requirements of governments. RIM does not comment on confidential regulatory matters...” an official statement from the company said.

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