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BlackBerry service illegal?

india Updated: Aug 14, 2010 08:20 IST
Manoj Gairola

BlackBerry services in the country are in violation of the Internet Service Providers (ISP) guidelines on encryption of data. According to the guidelines, a licencee has to seek prior permission of the government if the level of encryption is higher than 40-bit key length (see graphics).

“In case of BlackBerry, the level of encryption is much higher and very complex. The government has not given permission to any operator to start services without setting up server,” a senior Department of Telecommunications (DoT) official told Hindustan Times.

"There are guidelines under which this service could not have been provided,” former VSNL chairman and managing director BK Syngal said. “It is strange the government continued to turn a blind eye for the last few years, resulting in a possible sympathy from third party interest. If it is taken so casually, what is the need for security guidelines?”

At present, nine operators provide BlackBerry services, including government-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL).

Telecom service providers provide services under unified access service licences (UASL), which permit them to offer data and Internet services such as email. They have to follow ISP guidelines on encryption.

"It is a grey area and it is not easy to argue that operators are deliberately breaching their licence conditions,” said Mahesh Uppal, director of Com First, a regulator consultancy firm.

Official spokespersons of Research in Motion (RIM, the company that runs BlackBerry service), Vodafone, Bharti Airtel and Idea declined to comment.

Security agencies are unable to intercept and monitor BlackBerry services because of complex encryption communication and non-availability of BlackBerry servers in India.

A three-member team of RIM led by its vice-president Robert E Crowe met Home Secretary GK Pillai to discuss government’s notice to telecom operators and RIM to make available before August 31 lawful interception of BlackBerry Enterprise Services (BES) and BlackBerry Messenger Services to security agencies. “I am optimistic,” Crowe said after a half-an-hour meet with Pillai.