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BlackBerry dispute leaves Indian users confused

By Priyanka Sahay, IANS,

New Delhi : Yamini Panth, 24, was hoping to buy a BlackBerry phone with her first salary. A part of computer major Dell’s corporate communications team, she saw in the device all the services she needed — e-mail, messenger, SMS and voice.

Now she is confused like many others, after the government set Aug 31 as the deadline to access the security features of this smathphone, developed by Canadian Company Research in Motion, from those offering its services in the country.

“I always wanted to own a BlackBerry. I was looking forward to it. So I had decided this will be the investment I will make with my first pay cheque. Now, with this ban thing and all that happening, I am told Nokia E-series handset is a better option,” Panth told IANS.

Like her, India’s youth is not completely oblivious to the threat perceptions which the government sees to internal security, if the encrypted services of BlackBerry that make it difficult to intercept messages is misused by terrorists or insurgents.

“No one wants another 26/11, no matter what happens. I think the government must be provided access to decoded data, as compromising on our country’s security will be a terrible idea,” says Anupriya Singh, 21, a student of Delhi University.

“But I would certainly dislike someone snooping on me. Why can’t the government assure me that my conversations, my chats, my e-mails and my SMSs will not be intercepted – I am entitled to know that,” Singh added.

Prasanto K. Roy, chief editor of CyberMedia’s information and communications technology publications, says neither the interior ministry nor the telecom department is addressing a central issue.

“The BlackBerry email is not the only, or, perhaps, even the preferred choice, for a terrorist. There are other less traceable means, including a webmail service like Gmail,” he says.

But Generation-X — those who have the BlackBerry, or others who were hoping to acquire one — has started already scouting for alternatives that will not only offer chat features but also provide access to ther internet.

What has attracted youth to the smartphone is the image makeover Research in Motion went for some months ago to change the perception around it from a corporate gizmo to a stylish gadget, with slimmer looks and affordable prices starting at Rs.13,500.

“Switching a handset is not an easy task. But what is the point if BlackBerry messenger service is blocked. I would rather own an iPhone with 3G. It will be fast and sleek with many more applications,” says 23-year-old Disha Ahuja who works for a media firm.

Research in Motion has shipped over 100 million BlackBerry devices till date, with some 46 million users through 550 telecom carriers in over 175 countries. The company doesn’t share country-specific data, but estimates suggest around one million users in India.

Nimish Dubey, editor of on-line blog on smartphones “cellpassion.com” and a gadget freak himself, bats for the Nokia E-Series, although he maintains that Apple’s iPhone and the Android also offer good features.

“Nokia E-series is a high enterprise device with better cameras than BlackBerry. It also comes at an affordable price. It will be a sure winner if some of the BlackBerry services are blocked in India,” he says.

(Priyanka Sahay can be reached at [email protected])