India holds top-level meeting on BlackBerry security fears

NEW DELHI, Aug 12, 2010 (AFP) - India's home ministry held top-level talks with intelligence services Thursday to discuss suspending BlackBerry services if the smartphone's makers do not satisfy security concerns.

India is one of several emerging-market countries which have asked BlackBerry's Canadian manufacturers to allow scrutiny of encrypted email and instant message traffic.

"This is an internal meeting and it will address BlackBerry and other telecom issues relating to security," a senior home ministry official who declined to be named told AFP.

The row with BlackBerry, which has one million customers in India, comes as the country ramps up security ahead of the Commonwealth Games in October.

The meeting in New Delhi follows Saudi Arabia postponing a BlackBerry ban after a deadline passed for finding a solution allowing authorities to monitor encrypted messages.

Home Ministry officials have said India could press for its own deadline for Research in Motion (RIM), the manufacturers of the smartphone, to allow access to encrypted data transmitted via the handset.

The Indian government has warned it will allow India's telecom operators to offer only services which can be intercepted by the security agencies.

The ministry official told AFP that only security agencies and state-run telecom operator BSNL would attend the meeting, which was chaired by Home Secretary G.K. Pillai.

RIM was not at the meeting, he said, declining to elaborate.

BSNL, government-run MTNL and a host of private telecom providers like Airtel and Vodafone offer BlackBerry services and have the legal responsibility in India to ensure security agencies can access all services.

Any suspension would likely leave BlackBerry users with only the ability to telephone and browse the Internet.

India is the world's fastest-expanding cellular market and also one of RIM's key growth targets.

RIM did not immediately respond to emails or phone calls from AFP.

India, battling insurgencies from Muslim-majority Kashmir in the northwest to the far-flung northeast, is sensitive about the potential risks of new technology and has raised fears BlackBerry services could be used by militants to communicate.

In Saudi Arabia the telecoms watchdog this week announced BlackBerry messenger services would remain online, as it reported "positive developments" in efforts to find a solution.

The United Arab Emirates has said that it will ban BlackBerry messenger, email and web browsing from October 11 for security reasons.

BlackBerry is not the only company to feel heat from the Indian government.

The government has been restricting imports from Chinese telecom manufacturers because of intelligence agency fears "spyware" could be embedded in the equipment.

It has unveiled tough new rules for telecom operators and equipment sellers to tackle security issues, saying operators will have to take over equipment maintenance locally and will have to allow inspections.

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