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No explicit permission to start BlackBerry services without setting up server: DoT
In a development that could impact BlackBerry services and also the ongoing discussions with its maker Research in Motion over security concerns, the Department of Telecom has said that no permission was given to start the service in the country.

According to senior DoT officials, "no explicit permission has been given by the government to start BlackBerry services in the country without setting up server."

This assumes importance as nine leading telecom firms, including government-owned-- BSNL and MTNL--and other leading private players Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, RCom and Tatas are offering BlackBerry services in the country and the cumulative subscriber base is nearly one million.

"At present BlackBerry services are being provided by 9-Telecom Service Providers. The security agencies are unable to intercept and monitor BlackBerry services because of complex encrypted communication and non availability of BlackBerry servers in India," says an internal noting of DoT.

This is despite the fact that the government has formulated a policy regarding internet services. As per the policy, the licencees (operators) have to ensure that bulk encryption was not deployed by Internet Service Providers.

Further, individuals, groups and organisations are permitted to use encryption up to 40-bit key length without obtaining permission from the licensor.

However, for deploying encryption equipment with higher limit, prior permission has to be obtained and the decryption key has to be deposited with the government, DoT said.

BlackBerry is a handset used for various kinds of services like voice, SMS and email, DoT note said, adding that Law Enforcement Agencies were not able to intercept certain types of communications like enterprise email services that uses complex encryption method.

The government is in dialogue with service providers and BlackBerry to find out a solution for interception and monitoring of such services.

Few rounds of meetings have been held between the Ministry of Home Affairs and RIM officials and the security agencies have placed their demand failing which they may be forced to put a ban on certain types of services.

However, RIM - the company that makes Blackberry phones - had recently expressed inability to meet the demand, saying no one including the company could access the encrypted data and did not have any "masters key".

"The BlackBerry security architecture for enterprise customers is purposefully designed to exclude the capability for RIM or any third party to read encrypted information under any circumstances," the company had said in a statement.

"Governments have a wide range of resources and methods to satisfy national security and law enforcement needs without compromising commercial security requirements," it had said.

The security architecture for RIM's enterprise customers is based on a symmetric key system whereby customers create their own key and only they possess the copy of the encryption.

The company had clarified that, "RIM does not possess a master key nor does any back door exist in the system that would allow RIM or any third party to gain an unauthorised access to the key or corporate data."

RIM, therefore, would be unable to accommodate any request for a copy of a customer's encryption key since at no time does RIM, or any wireless network operator, ever possess a copy of the key, it added.

RIM senior officials had met G K Pillai, Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, last week and exuded confidence that the matter would soon be resolved.

The government has set a time-frame till August 31 for RIM to provide solution to the security agencies to intercept services like chat on BlackBerry and enterprise email services.
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