The news out of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia threatening to ban BlackBerry Messenger because of concerns that the countries cannot adequately monitor messages has been big news in the business and technology world over the last few weeks. Following on the heels of that announcement, India is currently in a standoff with Research in Motion (RIM), the maker of the BlackBerry.

In 2008, terrorist attacks in Mumbai were coordinated with cell phones, and the Indian government is concerned that the encryption of BlackBerry emails and messages could provide protection for future terrorist communication. In response to the perceived threat, India’s home ministry has announced that it would ban BlackBerry messages and emails, as the United Arab Emirates have done, if RIM does not make the email and messaging services available to Indian security agencies by the end of August. The company originally declined to grant access to their services because it refuses to compromise the security of corporate email, and as of now is locked in a standoff with the Indian government. RIM has promised to provide a technical solution by next week that should allow the security agencies access to BlackBerry encrypted data, but the solution must be evaluated and approved by the home ministry.

It is anticipated, however, that after the situation with BlackBerry encryption is resolved, either by a ban or by allowing the government access to BlackBerry services, the Indian government will pursue Google and Skype for similar security concerns. No notices have yet been sent to those companies, but it appears that India is very interested in ensuring that all companies which provide mobile data services comply with the law and allow monitoring of communications.

India has the fastest growing telecoms market in the world, and closing that market to BlackBerry services would drastically affect RIM’s growth prospects. Approximately 1 million of BlackBerry’s 41 million customers live in India, and that number is growing daily. Faced with substantial competition by Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android, RIM will likely not allow this current conflict with the Indian government to escalate to the point where their services would be banned, as it would cost the company a much needed market.

Negotiations between RIM and the Indian government will likely continue over the next few weeks, although it seems as though RIM is willing to make the necessary compromises to ensure their products are not banned once again. Whether or not a deal is reached, other mobile technology companies will probably also have to consider allowing the Indian government to monitor their encrypted data before their services are threatened with a ban as well.

Christine Hawes

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