New Delhi: India has clarified that banning Canadian company Research In Motion's BlackBerry services that are provided to the Indian public by four mobile service providers, is not being considered.
Security agencies in India have expressed concerns over the service's encryption levels, which ensures that email messages sent using it cannot be traced, intercepted, or decrypted.
Speaking on the sidelines of a industry meet, Siddhartha Behura, telecommunications secretary clarified that at the present time, there was ''no question of banning'' the service. He said that the telecommunications department was keen to have the services continue. Tlecommunications minister A Raja also said that interactions between various stakeholders, including the home ministry, were underway, and he was optimistic about the matter being resolved.
Behura said the telecommunications department has advised officials of Research in Motion (RIM) about their security concerns, and will be meeting representatives of the four mobile phone service providers, Airtel, Vodafone, Reliance, and BPL, who offer BlackBerry services in India. He said the department would like to see service providers convey the gravity of the government's concerns to Blackberry officials, so that plausible and satisfactory replies can be given to security agencies.
V Ramachandran, director general of industry body Cellular Operators' Association of India (COAI), had earlier said that meetings with the government on the Blackberry issue were underway, and more were in the offing. He has said that the government wants its security concerns addressed, and his association was looking for an ''effective dialogue'' with security agencies and the department of telecommunications. The Business Standard had estimated the total number of Blackberry customers in India at around 400,000. This group is comprised largely of corporate customers, who's employees and managers use the service to stay connected to their offices while on the move.
Reports in the media had indicated that the government would possibly seek access to algorithms from RIM that would allow it to intercept and decipher email messages sent via Blackberry. Other speculation hovered around the possibility of reducing the level of encryption from 128-bit to 40-bit, considered to be more 'intercept able' levels. Operators note that if BlackBerry services are banned, security agencies could possibly next go after e-commerce applications, such as especially money transfers, which use encryption. A reduction in encryption levels such as this would render most online transactions risky, and practically choke the online banking and e-commerce industry.
The home ministry, for its part, is seeking 'lawful interception' of messages sent on Blackberry services, to address security concerns. The service, however, encrypts data before transmission, and does not allow any interception as emails sent from a Blackberry device are routed through RIM servers which are hosted in Canada, and the law of the land does not allow for 'lawful' interception. The government is seeking to address security concerns arising out of terrorism, as members of terror outfits are increasingly using email as a form of communication between their setups.
Similar issues had arisen in France a year ago, as security officials expressed concerns that e-mails exchanged between government officials via the Blackberry service may be accessible to the US National Security Agency (NSA) since Blackberry's services were routed through servers in the US and the UK. Reports suggest that in the aftermath of that issue, Blackberry 'addicts' could barely live without their devices, which some had nicknamed 'Crackberrys.'
However, with conversations with managers from the corporate world as testament, a blanket ban on Blackberry would not be entirely unwelcome in India.
Across rank and file, there is a largely understated animosity, and varying emotional reactions towards the device and service, as it renders the fine line between work and live, quite entirely invisible. Top down, managers expect instant responses to emails sent to and from the device, paying insignificant heed to the time of day, personal situations, environment, and a million other nuances of life, from their subordinates. T
he way one manager puts it, ''It doesn't matter whether you're sleeping, awake, driving, showering, or dying. If it beeps, you better answer it.'' Another says he now wakes up in the morning and checks the device even before getting out of bed. Many others say it unceremoniously imposes on their personal lives, to the degree that it has lead to interpersonal conflicts with friends, spouses, and children, as no matter where you are, there is no end to the exchange, or to work.
Maybe, a poll is in order as to whether a blanket ban on Blackberry services would be that detrimental after all. Logically, productivity losses from the lack of 'instant' email could be more than made up by the raised workforce morale, and better work life balances of the people enslaved by the 'fantastic' invention that makes sure, quite literally, that you're working 24x7.
For now, it still is being used as a terror device – by managers, to rein in their subordinates. At least in some cases.