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BlackBerry Agrees to Incorporate Security Loophole to Allow Government Monitoring of Email

BlackBerry Agrees to Incorporate Security Loophole to Allow Government Monitoring of Email

BlackBerry logo In most cases, a hyper-secure email protocol that made it impossible for anyone to read a message except for the sender and intended recipient would sound like a good thing. But if you’re a government in charge of sniffing out terrorists, it’s your worst nightmare.
That’s the debate that’s been raging overseas recently in regard to the quintessential business smartphone: the BlackBerry. As the trusted sidekick of many a high-powered executive for years, demand for highly secure email encryption system is understandably high. Should a hacker get access to proprietary data, trade secrets or insider information on investments or stock trades, it could compromise an entire business strategy and even unsettle an entire industry. That’s why BlackBerry’s corporate email service is so popular. It’s so secure, not even the government can intercept conversations.
That’s all well and good if you’re a stockbroker or CEO—but the ability to skirt government surveillance is equally as useful for terrorists and enemy spies. This concern is what galvanized the Indian government to demand that Research in Motion, the Canadian company that develops the BlackBerry, to incorporate a backdoor that would allow government officials to intercept and decipher encrypted emails. If RIM didn’t comply, they would ban use of the smartphone within Indian borders. With 41 million BlackBerry users in India, that represents a goodly chunk of RIM’s business.
The Indian government recently backed down on its ecumenical ban of BlackBerry use and is now starting that it will only prohibit use of the BlackBerry corporate email system while allowing use of voice calls and text messages, which are relatively simple for government agents to intercept. India gave BlackBerry a deadline of August 31 to devise an acceptable monitoring system that would allow the government to intercept secure messages sent via the corporate email system—otherwise, the service would be made illegal in India. In spite of much controversy over compromising the security and civil liberties of users, Research in Motion has stated that it intends to create such a backdoor for government use. If such a monitoring system can be incorporated without shaking consumer confidence in the security of the protocol, this may be highly beneficial for BlackBerry’s fate—not just in India, but in other nations that object to the impenetrable encryption of BlackBerry’s corporate email service. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, for example, have already expressed concerns over the opacity of BlackBerry’s security protocol.
This win for the Indian government may open the doors to closer collusion between technology developers and the national security departments of governments. In any situation, it’s clear that technology developers will play a much larger role in determining public policy and vice versa.
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