India has BlackBerry in the palm of its hand

India has ditched its threat to block certain BlackBerry services - in exchange for greater snooping powers.

by
Last Updated: 25 Mar 2011
Research in Motion, the Canadian tech firm behind the BlackBerry, has agreed to make changes to the handheld device that could allow India's security forces greater access to monitor corporate e-mail and messages.

It’s a classic case of a company having to negotiate an ethical tightrope in pursuit of international profits. RIM can’t afford to lose the Indian market, where it has 1m subscribers. Then again, it’s got 46m clients around the world who may get the jitters about its services if they see governments monitoring the saucy messages they’re sending to their secretaries. It’s a tricky beast, this globalisation.

It’s certainly a thorny issue for the BlackBerry, for which powers of encryption are these days one of the strongest selling points. In the old days it faced no competition in terms of mobile emails; but now if it was forced to cave on its security measures it’d be losing its one remaining USP.  

The Indian government had set the deadline of the end of August for RIM to make corporate emails and instant messaging more accessible to its security forces. And, it says, with good reason. It reckons the Mumbai terrorist attacks of a couple of years back, which left more than 150 people dead, were co-ordinated using BlackBerrys and encrypted messages.

Unfortunately for RIM, India isn’t the only country at it. The Canadian firm has found itself in a series of showdowns recently with the likes of Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates over the level of privacy that BlackBerrys provide. It’s Google’s censorship spat with China all over again.

RIM’s position is made even tougher by the fact that emerging markets’ growth figures tend to be the only positive economic stories floating about these days - India has just announced an 8.8% growth in its economy from April to June compared with the same period last year.

Its customers would have a right to be miffed should such privacy be eroded further. There’s plenty of communication going on via the ubiquitous devices that, while nothing to do with hijacking hotels, may still be deemed sensitive by the parties involved. They certainly won’t be happy to hear that India’s telecoms ministry is also looking into whether all the subcontinent's BlackBerry communications could be routed through a server physically located in India.
 
But while the ethical argument may be strong, it’s hard to imagine companies like RIM doing anything other than playing along. India’s economy is booming - the latest figures record its fastest growth in two years. And that in itself is a message that’s clear enough to anyone.


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