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India May Extend August 31 BlackBerry Deadline?

An Indian government source has told Reuters that the country may extend the date on which it will ban BlackBerry services in the country if Canada’s Research in Motion—the company that makes BlackBerries—can come up with a solution that will enable the Indian government to intercept messages, but just needs more time to deploy it. However, the Indian government is sticking to its hardline stance that the only acceptable solution is one that enables the Indian government to lawfully monitor BlackBerry communications in pursuit of national security.

RIM’s BlackBerry services—particularly those aimed at corporations and enterprises—have been the subject of increasing government scrutiny, since their encrypted communications cannot be read by mobile operators or government agencies. RIM also stores the communications overseas in data centers in North America and the United Kingdom.

Countries like India, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are concerned encrypted BlackBerry communications could become a tool for terrorists or militants to plan and execute attacks. The UAE and Saudi Arabia also filter Internet traffic to block information the governments deem immoral or blasphemous to Islam.

Similar concerns in Saudi Arabia apparently led to RIM relenting and locating BlackBerry data center services in the country, but not handing over some back door to decrypt secure communications. For its part, RIM has refused to comment on its agreements and negotiations with governments, including India and Saudi Arabia.

RIM has repeatedly pointed out the two-part encryption key system it uses in BlackBerry communications does not have any back door: messages can only be decrypted by user with their own keys, and RIM does not have access to those encryption keys, or a magic “master key” that enables them to decrypt any arbitrary communication.

BlackBerry has about 1 million users in India; if a ban were to go into effect, users would still be able to use the devices for phone calls and Internet browsing, but not for secured email and communications.

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