India defers decision on BlackBerry, meet with operators off

New Delhi, Aug 12 (IANS) India Thursday deferred a decision on the action it proposes to address the security concerns arising out of possible misuse of BlackBerry devices, even as a meeting with telecom operators offering the service was called off at short notice.

Home Secretary G.K. Pillai, however, presided over what was described as an ‘internal meeting’ during which inputs was were sought from the state-run telecom services firm Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) on how to tackle the issue at hand.

The meeting with representatives of all telecom operators which offer the BlackBerry service, including the state-run Mahanagar Telephone Nigam, Vodafone, AirTel, Reliance Communications and Tata TeleServices was called off and no reason was assigned.

In a related development, a team of senior officials from Canada’s Research in Motion (RIM), the developers of BlackBerry, called on Home Minister P. Chidambaram, amid the government’s concerns over possible misuse of the security features of such devices.

‘This was a courtesy call,’ Chidambaram said in a brief reply to queries from reporters outside his North Block office after his meeting with the delegation led by Robert Crow, RIM’s vice president for industry, government and university relations.

At the meeting convened by the home secretary, those present included senior officers of the Intelligence Bureau, another intelligence gathering agency, the National Technical Research Organisation, and the Department of Telecommunications.

‘This was an internal meeting. The meeting did not yield any results. Another round of meeting is likely. That’s all I can say,’ said a senior official in the ministry on the condition of anonymity, as he was not authorised to speak to the media on the matter.

The meeting with BlackBerry service providers was called to make it clear to them they were bound by the licence agreement to allow security agencies access to voice and data communications that pass through their networks, officials said.

The government also wanted to make it clear that the intention was not to intrude into the privacy of a BlackBerry device user but ensure that the country’s security concerns are not compromised by misuse of the device by terrorists and insurgents, they added.

Research in Motion has shipped over 100 million BlackBerry devices till date, with some 46 million active subscribers through 550 telecom carriers in more than 175 countries.

The company does not share country-specific data, but the number of BlackBerry users in India is estimated at around one million.

Officials declined comment on the Canadian company reportedly agreeing to set up its server in Saudi Arabia to address similar concerns expressed by the Gulf kingdom and whether a proposal from them on the same lines in India would be acceptable.

Saudi Arabia is among of a number of countries expressing concern that the device is a security threat because encrypted information sent on the phones is routed through servers overseas, making it impossible for local governments to monitor.

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