BlackBerry fans in India had best stay on the up-and-up lest they want to draw unwanted attention from the country’s security agencies. India Today reported over the weekend that the country’s government is on the verge of being able to capture messages sent though RIM’s formerly iron-clad BBM service.
Unnamed Indian officials were quick to point out to India Today that their forthcoming ability to capture and crack BBM messages will be used strictly on snoop on devices whose users are suspected of engaging in criminal or terrorist activity.
Thankfully, there seems to a be a fairly rigorous approval process that needs to take place before the snooping can commence — the Union Home Ministry must essentially issue a warrant to the agency in question (eight of them authorized to tap communications), who then must request access to the data from the trackee’s service provider.
Given their focus on facilitating communication between employees, the government is less concerned with snooping on messages that pass through BlackBerry enterprise servers. That isn’t to say that they can’t do it — they would have to intercept the messages before the were encrypted by the BES, which they view as more an unnecessary hassle than a technical impossibility.
If some of this sounds familiar, it’s probably because RIM and India have had a long, and at times contentious relationship. The whole convoluted story first began to unfold in March 2008, when the Indian government began seeking a way to “lawfully intercept” emails and messages sent by BlackBerry users. India was (and remains) so wedded to the idea that they eventually threatened to shut down RIM’s network within the country entirely if they didn’t fork over that access. RIM fought the good fight for nearly two months, but eventually backed down rather than let themselves be shut out of the Indian market entirely.
The Indian government was unhappy with RIM’s initial offer but finally got their wish back in October, when RIM (perhaps reluctantly) installed a facility in Mumbai that would effectively allow the government to poke around in user data as needed. And, well, here we are. BlackBerrys (and perhaps BBM in particular) have proven to be a useful method for people to communicate in the midst of chaos and confusion, but whether or not the Indian government’s newfound powers will help as much as they think remains to be seen.