The ongoing struggle between RIM and data-hungry government surveillance programs is starting to look more like a soap opera than a political drama. After RIM caved to India and began offering a method to intercept Blackberry Messenger messages within that country, the government has decided that the tools they’ve been given aren’t good enough.
“We have manual access to the messenger service. We want automated access and we are hopeful of getting it from January 1,” said G.K. Pillai, India’s home secretary. Apparently, and anyone who reads this site could have told Mr. Pillai this (and RIM did so), the communications they have been enabled to intercept are encrypted with keys RIM cannot provide, because it does not have them. They are attempting to squeeze blood from a stone.
As I noted back in August, it is up to the government (Saudi Arabia in that case, India here) to acquire the decryption keys, since they are the property of their own citizens, and if said keys really are important to national security (it’s not for me to say), then I’m sure they have ways to compel users to surrender them. In fact, they boasted some time ago that they had cracked the encryption, so such measures should be unnecessary — if they were telling the truth.
Meanwhile, as the New York Times reported last week, businesses have taken note of India’s troubling insistence on the ability to intercept confidential communications, and are going to be more unlikely to choose India for certain kinds of business in the future. Storage and analysis of medical records, for example, are highly confidential but would likely be “subject to search” under Indian law. So insurance and medical companies will simply choose a country that respects private communication in which to do business.
It’s certainly India’s prerogative to set security above privacy, as indeed we in the US have to some extent, but as a country so reliant on importing tech business, pursuing this course too far is unwise. They show no signs of reducing the pressure on RIM, however, so we’ll likely be hearing more about this over the three months leading up to the January 1st ultimatum date.