India has been demanding for some time now access to RIM’s Blackberry communications. Citing its need to monitor potential terrorist threats, the government in Mumbai has threatened to block RIM’s services in the country unless it is able to intercept messages. This has certainly put RIM in a compromising position as it touts its system as being one of the most secure in the world. Providing such a "back door" access to its system would be tantamount to declaring to the world that its much vaunted security is a false advertising promise.
RIM remains cooperative with the Indian government and has apparently provided some interim solutions for the government to test. However the latest stories seem to indicate that Mumbai is saying they still do not have free and clear access to the Blackberry’s Internet and phone services. Just what these interim solutions are remain to be seen as RIM has said from the beginning that it does not possess a "master key" to gain access to encrypted communications. RIM claims that their security architecture prevents anybody, RIM or 3rd parties from reading encrypted information. RIM does not possess any customer’s encryption key so it cannot provide a copy of said key to the government.
RIM has promised to provide a full solution to India’s request by January 31, 2011. News sources indicate that the India government decided to not block Blackberry services in the country on October 31, 2010 as they had previously threatened based on that promise.
A clue as to how they may fulfill their promise may be found in a recent statement made by the company. News sources have quoted RIM as saying, "The Government has acknowledged that any potential policy or approach that requires lawful access to strongly encrypted enterprise data sent to or from corporate and government organizations … would need to occur through the enterprise customers themselves since RIM has no ability to provide the customers’ encryption keys."
The solution, it would seem, may be that the Indian government makes it mandatory that any company or any person using a Blackberry must give a copy of their encryption key to the government. That way Mumbai could monitor all communication and RIM would be able to preserve their celebrated security. It would be up to India or any other government for that matter to enact laws, if such laws do not already exist, to make sure that the customers themselves comply with a government’s wishes by ensuring that the government can listen in on any voice call or read any email message.
While the fight against terrorism is laudable, I wonder if privacy activists are going to have a field day with this one. The problem with the individual giving up rights to the government with the idea that government is going to protect that individual is that abuses occur. Is Big Brother listening? If in talking on my Blackberry phone about the Toronto 18 and their plan to blow up the CN Tower, I wonder out loud with a friend about the actual feasibility of doing something which would cause the tower to fall over, am I going to have CSIS knocking at my door in 30 minutes to haul me off for interrogation?
Of course, it is up to the police who are monitoring conversations to weed out what’s not important from what is important. Hopefully they are able to do so with some degree of accuracy.
Years ago, I had a job in the bar at a Holiday Inn. One evening, a customer who was chatting with me, started talking about marijuana. Fine, I have to talk with the customers; it’s my job. However, there was an off duty policeman sitting at the bar and he overheard the conversation. The next thing I know, I have the police show up demanding to search my room. I didn’t touch drugs so they didn’t find anything but there was the veiled threat of me having to comply even though they didn’t have a warrant, "Let us search or we can settle this down at the precinct." Hmmm, did they follow the customer who brought up this topic of conversation? I never found out.
It’s curious to see how somebody overhearing something may not know everything and can jump to the wrong conclusions.
I just phoned into Domino’s for my pizza delivery. They took my order and hung up and then before I hung up, I could have sworn somebody sneezed and said, "Excuse me." 🙂
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