Indonesia’s telecoms regulatory agency, the BTRI, has told the Jakarta Post that they may have to shut down RIM’s BlackBerry Messenger and Internet services after the company declined to establish BBM servers within the country. RIM opted to put its servers in neighboring Singapore, for reasons not described in the article. BTRI says it must do this because “the data exchanged is not safe.”
Anyone can see through this transparent excuse for bullying RIM — they’re not the first to try it. Saudi Arabia and India recently made similar threats, though they were more forthcoming about their reasons. They wanted the power to monitor the transmissions, and chances are Indonesia does too.
The trouble is simply that the BBM data is all handled in Canada in RIM’s datacenters, and without a local node on Indonesian, Saudi Arabian, Indian, or other soil, those governments have almost no authority over the information. Naturally it’s in a government’s interest to be able to monitor its citizens, though of course the citizens (including private companies with international dealings) would prefer privacy, and RIM’s duty is to its customers.
That isn’t to say it hasn’t caved before. It has provided some private information to governments when they have requested it, though they maintain they have no way of monitoring or prying into private messages. Indeed, a server in Indonesia would only place encrypted data in the government’s possession, and they would still have to obtain the key from the account’s owner by normal means.
It’s one more problem for RIM to add to the list, and an increasingly popular one globally. Whether Indonesia will actually sabotage its own populace, among which (as it points out itself in its complaint to RIM) there are far more BlackBerry users than in Singapore and other nearby countries, is not clear. This kind of petty brinksmanship tends to drag on publicly and yield to compromises. But situations like this are becoming common as global communication becomes more and more relevant to national security and economic well-being. Sooner or later there will have to be some kind of international accord, or every country in the world is going to make similar demands.