India seeks upgrades for BlackBerry monitoring

NEW DELHI — India has asked mobile phone operators to upgrade their networks to help security agencies intercept communication on BlackBerry devices, three sources with direct knowledge of the matter said on Monday, as the government wants access to highly-secure data.

India had threatened to shut off RIM’s encrypted email and instant messaging services unless it gained access to them, in a campaign driven by fears that unmonitored email and messaging puts the country’s security at risk.

In addition to India, several other countries, mostly in the Middle East, have raised concerns that the popular BlackBerry device could be used to aid terrorism or peddle pornography.

The Indian interior ministry said on August 30 that the Canadian firm had offered several ways to allow authorities to monitor BlackBerry communications. The government said it would check their feasibility over the next 60 days.

“(Mobile) service providers will have to upgrade so that access to BlackBerry services are smooth,” said a senior government source with knowledge of the developments on Monday.

An India-based spokesman for RIM declined to comment on whether the government had started accessing BlackBerry traffic.

Mobile operators have been asked to submit compliance reports on the upgrade with India’s telecoms ministry by Sept 22, another source said.

An official with an Indian cellular carrier, who declined to be identified, confirmed that his firm had received a request from the government asking for the network upgrade.

The sources did not elaborate on what kind of additional technical capabilities were needed in phone networks to intercept the secure communications. The sources declined to be identified because the information is not public.

New Delhi has said it began accessing some BlackBerry traffic in India, although RIM has not confirmed that.

India’s efforts to monitor BlackBerry traffic could have an impact on the shape of India’s mobile phone market, the world’s fastest-growing, and possibly hand gains to Apple Inc and Nokia, BlackBerry’s two biggest smartphone rivals in India.

Data sent from non-RIM devices is easier to intercept and only requires the approval of the carrier, whereas RIM says carriers have no access to its encrypted data.

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