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Only consumer blackberry accounts open to Indian Gov, says RIM

Research In Motion, maker of the Blackberry smartphones, has denied that it intends to expose the communication of its corporate clients to the Indian government, but said it will allow legal access to consumer accounts. It also said that rumors about a planned move to give Indian government “full access” are hurting business.

The company, which reportedly withdrew from talks with the Indian government after their content was leaked to the media earlier this month, said it did not need two years, alleged by media reports, to come up with a monitoring mechanism. The firm had been accused of double-talk for allegedly promising an enterprise monitoring mechanism to the government while maintaining a public posture that it will never do so.

Robert Crow, RIM’s head of government relations who arrived in India to lead negotiations, accepted that rumors and reports Indian government is about to gain full access to corporate communication has “dampened” business. “The uncertainty about the corporate side has dampened everybody’s growth in India and has dampened India’s position in the world as a safe place to do business in.. When customers call you up and say, ‘I hear you are going to give India access to my private, customer information?’ and when the answer is no [ they say] ‘why is India saying this? Why is anybody saying this?’”

Crow said encrypted corporate communication, of the sort used by banks and BPOs, was not based on a ‘master key’ technology. Corporate customers, he pointed out, would stop using a service that forced them to share their key with either RIM, the operator or the government. “That is how corporate networks are designed all across the world,” he said. “Besides, if the government wants access to a company’s data, it can directly approach the company itself,” he added.

For retail consumers, however, RIM said it has, along with the operators, designed a mechanism for monitoring suspected accounts, similar to the existing mechanism for phone-tapping. He said that data transmitted by non-corporate customers, who make up a small part of RIM’s customer-base in India, are liable to be monitored by the government according to the usual rules.

As for corporate networks, Crow said RIM uses the same technology as all other providers of corporate connectivity in India, and none of them can be ‘cracked’ by the government. “That is the structure of the VPN (virtual private network) service,” he said, adding that the new telecom secretary, an engineer and the former IT secretary, seemed to appreciate the technical position.

He said no government in the world can hope to decode all coded communication on the Internet, corporate or otherwise. “You would have to invest a heck of a lot of money to be able to keep up with that. I am not aware of any government anywhere that has been doing that.. It has presented a major challenge to law enforcement.. What it calls for are smarter policing and better international co-operation,” he said.

RIM has found itself under fire from many governments, including those of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, for allegedly serving as a possible conduit for terrorist communication through its encrypted blackberry messaging service. The company gets most of its revenues from its corporate clients.

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