India’s home secretary to meet telecom operators on BlackBerry security


New Delhi : India’s Home Secretary G.K. Pillai will chair a meeting Thursday with officials of telecom companies offering BlackBerry services on security concerns over possible misuse of encrypted data sent on such devices.

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“Yes, the meeting is scheduled for Thursday. Senior officials from the telecom ministry and security agencies are also expected to attend the meeting. The home secretary will himself chair the meeting,” a senior official said.

“The services providers called for the meeting include BSNL (Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd), MTNL (Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd), Vodafone, AirTel, R-Com (Reliance Communications), Tata TeleServices,” the official said.

“Officials from the Canadian company (Research in Motion-RIM that has developed BlackBerry) may also join. But there is no confirmation from them as yet,” he said, adding: “A deadline may also be set for complying with the guidelines after mutual consultations.”

According to an official in the home ministry, the reason to co-opt mobile phone service providers is to make it clear they are bound by the licence agreement to allow security agencies access to voice and data communications that passes through their networks.

“Even if the Canadian company is reluctant to allow us access to encrypted data carried on BlackBerry devices, Indian telecom service providers can’t violate their agreements with the government,” the official said.

The meeting Thursday will also seek to clear the air that the intention of the government is not to intrude into someone’s privacy, but to drive home the point that the country’s security concerns cannot be compromised at any cost, the official added.

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

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.

Earlier, U.K. Bansal, the special secretary for internal security in the home ministry, had told IANS that discussions were already on with the Canadian company, but declined to spell out the nature of such deliberations.

“This matter is still under discussion. There is certain amount of confidentiality in these talks. We cannot share such information,” Bansal, had said, when asked about the the talks with Research in Motion.

“It will be too early to speculate what measures we will take. But what I can say is our security concerns cannot be compromised at any cost. We are working with the Department of Telecommunications on the matter.”