Centre volte-face: no Blackberry security threat

Written by Corporate Bureau | New Delhi, Jul 2 | Updated: Jul 4 2008, 02:23am hrs
Almost seven months after asking telecom companies to stop providing the push mail Blackberry services on the grounds that it did not provide for legal interception, the department of telecommunications (DoT) did a complete turnaround on Wednesday stating that there were no security threat from the services.

Speaking to newspersons on the sidelines of an industry conference, DoT secretary, Siddhartha Behura, said, There is no threat from Blackberry services. Interestingly, the DoT had earlier, on the advice of the home ministry pulled up companies like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Essar, and Reliance Communications for starting the services without the governments prior approval. The three companies currently provide Blackberry services.

On the same grounds it had withheld permission to Tata Teleservices Ltd (TTSL) when it sought to start the services.

However, on Wednesday Behura said that, there is no permission needed for starting value added services. We have not given permission to anybody, we have not disallowed anybody. However, he added that security agencies have raised certain issues and talks are on regarding them.

His comments assumes significance because not only did the DoT write letters to TTSL for not starting the services without the provision for legal interception, it also held a series of meetings with telecom companies and the Canadian firm, Research In Motion (RIM), which provides the technology for Blackberry services, to provide a solution. The talks till date have, officially not produced any results.

Despite RIMs assurances to work with the mobile operators currently providing the service in the country, it has not yet been able to either provide a solution to the security agencies to be able to decode the content communicated on the device or shift the servers to the country so as to enable security agencies to monitor e-mails and other data.

The whole issue of legal interception and legality of the Blackberry services had come to light late last year when TTSL sought governments approval to start the services. When the matter, as per procedure was referred to the home ministry, it was discovered that service did not provide for legal interception.

On being denied permission, TTSL had written to DoT that since other operators were providing the services without fulfilling the requirements it should also be allowed to do so. DoT had sought to restrain it stating that non-compliance of instructions by any other operator cannot be a valid ground for according permission.

Later, TTSL had written to DoT that the delay was taking a toll on its business plans so it is going ahead with the services. Whatever solution is arrived at and applied to other operators, would be observed by it also.