India to Blackberry: You have until August 31

Posted by Mike Luttrell

Indian officials have officially struck Blackberry with an ultimatum: provide the government with access to secure Blackberry servers or service to millions of India citizens will be cut off.

The country's Department of Telecommunications says it needs to be able to monitor messages sent to Blackberry users throughout India in the interest in national security. It already has access to mobile communications sent through other wireless networks.

Blackberry provider Research in Motion has been resistant to meet India's demands, as it prides itself on being a beacon of secure communication between individuals, and doesn't like the idea of a third party being able to intercept messages on a whim.

"It is binding upon them and the DoT (department of telecommunications), which is the nodal agency, will ensure that it is followed strictly in the interest of national security," said a department official to Reuters. "The onus is on service providers to ensure that they have some sort of interception mechanism in place before the deadline ends."

At issue are instant messages sent between Blackberry users, as well as some corporate e-mail exchanges which are currently unable to be tapped into. RIM has offered to grant the government at least partial access to Blackberry Messenger conversations.

That's not good enough for India, though, which is now ordering RIM to open up some sort of way for it to intercept wireless messages, by August 31, or it will effectively shut down Blackberry service throughout the country.

"We have received a letter ... asking us to ensure that legal intervention capability is put in place for BlackBerry services," confirmed one mobile service provider in India to Reuters.

It is unknown how receptive RIM will be to the latest threat. Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia declared a similar warning against the Blackberry maker, and when RIM did not comply the country did in fact block out some Blackberry service. However, all service was restored within a matter of hours without a confirmed resolution.

It's a very difficult proposition to say that a country will shut off service to regular people who did nothing wrong. We'll see what happens in India.