India said it would cut off BlackBerry email and instant messaging unless the smartphone’s Canadian makers allow security forces access to the services by the end of the month.
India’s Ministry of Home Affairs told the country’s mobile operators they would have to close down the corporate email and messenger services if Research in Motion, BlackBerry’s Canadian makers, did not comply with its demands.
“If a technical solution is not provided by August 31, 2010, the government will review the position and take steps to block” the email and messenger services, a home ministry statement said.
New Delhi, battling insurgencies ranging from Kashmir in the northwest to the far-flung northeast, has raised fears that the heavily encrypted BlackBerry services could be used by militants.
Islamic militants used mobile and satellite phones to coordinate the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people.
Telecom operators such as Bharti Airtel and Vodafone, which offer BlackBerry services, have a responsibility under Indian law to ensure security agencies can access all services carried on their networks.
The ministry noted services like BlackBerry Internet and voice calls had already been made available to security agencies for monitoring but said that did not go far enough.
Responding Thursday to the Indian government’s statement, RIM said it tried to be as cooperative as possible with governments “in the spirit of supporting legal and national security requirements.”
But it also wanted to preserve “the lawful needs of citizens and corporations,” a company statement said.
“RIM maintains a consistent global standard for lawful access requirements that does not include special deals for specific countries,” the statement said.
Officials have complained the encrypted messaging system operated by RIM prevents them monitoring content.
But RIM has said earlier it could not open up its technology to Indian authorities.
It has also said that it did not possess a “master key” to gain “unauthorised access” to data transmitted on its devices and there is no “back door” in the system that would allow RIM or any third party to gain access.
All corporate wireless message services have strong encryption, not just BlackBerry, it has said.
However a senior RIM executive paid what a government official described as a “courtesy” call Thursday afternoon on Home Minister P. Chidambaram.
Earlier in the day, India’s home ministry and the intelligence agencies held a high-level meeting to discuss halting BlackBerry’s services.
A home ministry spokesman said the telecommunications department had been told “to convey to service providers and RIM that the BES (Blackberry Enterprise Service) and messenger services must be made accessible to legal enforcement agencies”.
The threatened ban comes as RIM is seeking to boost its market share in India, which is the world’s fastest-expanding cellular market and has a million BlackBerry customers.
If the ban is imposed, BlackBerry corporate or “enterprise” customers would only be able to use their handsets for phone calls and Web browsing.
The Indian announcement came after Saudi Arabia postponed indefinitely on Tuesday imposing a BlackBerry ban as the ultra-conservative Muslim country reported progress in solving its security concerns.
The United Arab Emirates has said it will ban BlackBerry messenger, email and web browsing services from October 11 for security reasons.