Image: A man with his belongings walks past a closed store selling mobile phones in Kolkata
Rupak De Chowdhuri  /  Reuters
A man walks past a closed store selling mobile phones in Kolkata on Thursday, August 12.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 8/13/2010 6:48:13 AM ET 2010-08-13T10:48:13

Indian demands are giving a new headache to BlackBerry maker Research in Motion after New Delhi threatened a shutdown that could affect one million of the smartphone's 41 million users.

The country's government is also considering widening its crackdown on Internet-based messaging services by shutting down Google and Skype's messaging services, according to government documents seen by the Financial Times.

Indian officials discussed the issue with telecoms and Internet operator associations at a July 12 meeting, the newspaper reported.

The country's Home Ministry threatened to block BlackBerry corporate e-mail and messaging services unless the device's manufacturer makes them accessible to its security agencies by Aug. 31.

The ministry said that if no technical solution is provided by then, it will take steps to block the services from the country's mobile phone network. If a shutdown takes effect, BlackBerry users in India would only be able to use the devices for phone calls and Internet browsing.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have also threatened to cut off popular BlackBerry services unless they get greater access to user information. Like India, they've cited security concerns in pushing for access to encrypted information sent by the cell phones that gets routed through servers overseas.

Security fears
India has asked for encrypted BlackBerry communications to be made easily available to its intelligence and law enforcement agencies, saying that the services could be used by militant groups.

The 10 heavily armed gunmen who rampaged through Mumbai, India's financial capital, in November 2008, killing 166 people, used cell and satellite phones to communicate with their Pakistan-based handlers, according to Indian officials.

In its response to India's announcement, Canada's Research In Motion said on Thursday that it has drawn "a firm line" in negotiations with governments. It won't compromise on the secure nature of its corporate e-mail and messaging service and it won't give any country "special deals." Encryption, it said, is a fundamental technology required in any country that wants to attract and maintain international business.

India noted that it already has access to calls and text messages to and from BlackBerry phones, and to the consumer e-mail service. The threatened shutdown applies to RIM's corporate services.

Canada's international trade minister, Peter Van Loan, said the government has been "working with government officials in India to help RIM identify their concerns and find solutions."

India's announcement came after a meeting involving India's home secretary, an official in charge of domestic security, and representatives of security agencies and the government's telecommunications department, the ministry said in a statement.

"If they cannot provide a solution, we'll ask operators to stop that specific service. The service can be resumed when they give us the solution," said the Indian official, who asked not to be named.

Widening crackdown?
India's ongoing security fears could prompt it to widen its crackdown on Internet-based messaging services, according to a story on the Financial Times website.

"There was consensus that there more than one type of service for which solutions are to be explored. Some of them are BlackBerry, Skype, Google etc," according to minutes from a July 12 meeting between the Indian government and operator associations. "It was decided first to undertake the issue of BlackBerry and then the other services."

Representatives from two operator associations at the meeting confirmed the account to the newspaper, the FT reported.

The Indian demands follow a painful deal with Saudi Arabia, where a source said RIM has agreed to give authorities codes for BlackBerry Messenger users. The United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Algeria are also seeking access.

"By and large BlackBerry will hope for a solution... given India's potential. They wouldn't want to lose traction at a time when competition worldwide is stiff," said Kamlesh Bhatia, an analyst at technology research firm Gartner.

India seeks access to both email and Messenger, while Saudi Arabia has only targeted the instant messaging service.

The United Arab Emirates last week called for a sweeping ban on BlackBerry e-mail, messaging and Web services, saying the devices "allow users to act without any legal accountability, causing judicial, social and national security concerns." It plans to shut off the services in October unless it works out a compromise with RIM.

Talks between the UAE and RIM are still ongoing, said a person familiar with the issue who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The person said the UAE is pressing the company to install a data server inside the Gulf federation. That move is motivated by a desire to ensure that information sent on the devices remains protected, not to stifle the flow of information as some critics have charged, according to the person.

"This has nothing to do with freedom of speech," the AP quoted the person as saying. "It's not an issue of access to e-mails. It's an issue of protection of information."

It was unclear if installing a server alone would address all the UAE's concerns. The Emirates also remains concerned that BlackBerry Messenger could be misused by terrorists, the person said.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Digital communication empowering individuals

  1. Transcript of: Digital communication empowering individuals

    MADDOW: So yesterday, I was walking my dog in a state forest in western Mass. My state, like every state now, is broke, so the parks are un-staffed for the season, but still, it doesn`t matter. Me and the neighbors still walk our dogs there. So there I am, in the middle of the woods when all of a sudden , I hear a birdsong I have never heard. Now, I didn`t know what kind it was. So I took out my Blackberry and I turned on the little application where you can record voice notes for yourself. And I recorded this bird. I would try yes. Can we try it one more time? Yes. All right. So it didn`t come out great but you get what I was trying to do. My personal bird vocabulary is sort of limited. I can do crow versus raven. I can do seagulls, a few other embarrassing greatest hits but not really any of the detailed stuff, and this was new to me. So I made this recording on the Blackberry and I sent it to my girlfriend, Susan , who laughed at me so hard that she forgot to tell me whether or not she can identify the bird either. I still don`t know what it is. But I tried. Now, as an American citizen I was perfectly free to take out this device and record the sound of the bird. And the part where it gets really great is I could also send that sound as a message and I could get a reply, could get information and give information on my own time, at my own choosing in my own way. If that whole scene had happened in Dubai , I`d have been able to record that birdsong on my Blackberry , sure, but the government would have stopped me from E-mailing it to anyone. The United Arab Emirates yesterday announced that it will be turning off Blackberry service in October, just turning it off, the E-mail , the messaging, the Web browsing , because the government there considers the free sending of information back and forth over this device to be a security threat. I was in Dubai last month on my way to Afghanistan and while I was there, I used my Blackberry to send out some really blurry pictures from the airport. The whole world was blurry after flying for 12 hours but I sent those really blurry pictures using my Blackberry . I sent them over to someone in New York who posted them on the "Maddow Blog" right away. Look, I spend most time in public most of my time in public, as part of this big apparatus called television which takes tons of hours and human labor to get from 30 Rock here to you at home. If an evil regime wanted to censor us, we would be very easy to find here. When it`s just one sleep-deprived person sending blurry photos from the airport in Dubai when it`s that light and fast and unimpeded, that`s a very difficult form of broadcasting to stop. And that`s what makes this aspect of the digital age so dangerous for governments like the one in the United Arab Emirates . They lose control of the information that you and I are sending. In the case of Blackberry in UAE , this decision has been made because the company that makes Blackberries uses a system to protect the privacy of messages. And that system makes them so private that the Emirates government has trouble spying on them. The Blackberry `s ability to encrypt our messages has outrun that government `s ability to read those messages. And if the government of the United Arab Emirates cannot read those messages, it doesn`t want people to be able to send them. The story of the UAE shutting off Blackberry service is about a lot more than a Middle Eastern country cracking down on thumb-typing. The line that distinguishes organized media like us here in the studio from everyday human beings without jobs in the organized media , that line has gotten a lot more dotted in recent years. There`s still a big important place for professional reporting and writing and editing and story telling . But ordinary people frankly got the word out about the uprising in Iran last year, one tweet at a time, one YouTube clip at a time. In Haiti this year, people used Twitter and Flickr and Facebook to figure out who was still trapped in the rubble and to send messages about where supplies were most desperately needed. When flash-flooding devastated Nashville this spring, and few outside the region noticed, the people of Nashville kept the story alive on Twitter and on their own blogs. They let the world know themselves. Democratic societies like ours have a romantic and fervently defended tradition of freedom of the press . Freedom of the capital P press is among our most sacred principles. We defend it almost reflexively but there is a new threat in town for governments with something to fear, and that threat is you and it is me. Not you, the viewer, and me, the cable news host, but you and me, a sleepy person in the Dubai airport who is sending a picture out. You and me trying to identify a bird call over E-mail . You and me writing an angry note about the Ministry of Justice or sitting in China trying to Google the background of a national official or downloading a movie that has been banned or starting a discussion about a policy that we, as individual humans, don`t like. You and me , communicating freely with each other. That that simple act outside the organized media is so dangerous, is so powerful, has had such an impact already in the short time that it has existed on this earth that it terrifies enormous emerging superpowers like China . It also apparently terrifies small, ostentatiously consuming nations like the United Arab Emirates . The thing that scares them really is you and me talking, exchanging information and ideas on our own terms. That is becoming the most dangerous thing in the world, and so defending it is becoming one of the most important fights for freedom in the world . That does it for us tonight. We

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