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Saturday, 22 January 2011 00:00
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If BlackBerry users in the country are worried about what happens to their privacy if RIM gives in to the Indian government’s demand that it be allowed to snoop on email and messenger services, the dialogue between RIM and the government will chill them to the bone. RIM has suspended dialogue with the government because, as the Canadian High Commissioner Stewart Beck complained to home secretary GK Pillai, it was shocked that the minutes of its meetings with government officials found their way to the media—under its current deadline, if the government doesn’t find a satisfactory way that allows it to snoop, the BlackBerry enterprise server services will be halted (BlackBerry services that do not use an enterprise server, however, will continue unaffected). Think of what could happen to your email and BlackBerry Messenger content when the government can officially snoop and get it. This, of course, is the point Ratan Tata made in his petition to the court on the Niira Radia phone taps—how does sensitive information on individuals find its way into the public domain, he asked. The larger issue of privacy, of course, doesn’t extend just to Ratan Tata or the other well-heeled types that use BlackBerries, and the government has still to come out with a satisfactory explanation for how it plans to protect privacy.

As far as BlackBerry is concerned, the issue goes beyond privacy. BlackBerry email and messenger services—the ones that use an enterprise server— cannot be intercepted right now because the level of encryption, at 256 bits, is way beyond what most intelligence agencies can decrypt. While the government wants BlackBerry to give it the keys, RIM says the technology is such the codes are generated by each user’s system and it has no access to them—the best it can do, for phones that are to be legally monitored, is to give the government information as to what the enterprise server’s IP address is, after which it is up to the government. So, let’s say the government bans the enterprise-server service. What then? Here’s the problem: there are enough encryption software, like Pretty Good Privacy and CryptoSMS, which can be loaded on to standard android phones and, at 128 bits, even they aren’t easily decrypted. Nor are standard e-commerce message streams at 128-bit encryption levels. Since terrorists can just as well use PGP or e-commerce networks to communicate, are we going to ban this too? This is what the real BlackBerry debate is all about.

 

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