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Thu 12 Aug 2010 09:18 AM

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Address security or shut down, India tells Blackberry

UPDATE 2: Indian gov't gives RIM until Aug 31 to address security concerns.

Address security or shut down, India tells Blackberry
INDIA USERS: A shutdown would affect one million of the smartphones 41 million users. (Getty Images)

Research In Motion's popular BlackBerry email and messenger services will be shut down if the Canadian maker does not address Indian security concerns by August 31, a senior government source said on Thursday.

The ultimatum came hours after the home secretary, India's top civil servant over internal security, held talks with intelligence officials and state-run telecom operators BSNL and MTNL about how the government could access encryption details, the latest global headache for Research In Motion (RIM).

"The government has given RIM until August 31 to address India's security issues," a senior home (interior) ministry official, who declined to be named, told Reuters.

"Some services of BlackBerry will be shut down if they fail to comply with the order," the official said.

An RIM official met India's interior minister separately on Thursday, a government source said. There were no more details.

In a matter of a few weeks, the BlackBerry device - long the darling of the world's CEOs and politicians, including US President Barack Obama - has become a target for its encrypted email and messaging services with governments around the world.

The Indian demands follow a deal with Saudi Arabia, where a source said Research In Motion agreed to give authorities codes for BlackBerry Messenger users. The United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Algeria also seek access.

Bharti Airtel and Vodafone's India unit are the largest providers of BlackBerry services in India.

The Indian government wants access to the encrypted BlackBerry email and messaging systems.

A shutdown would affect one million of the smartphone's 41 million users. India is one of RIM's fastest growing markets.

If a shutdown takes effect, BlackBerry users in India would only be able to use the devices for calls and Internet browsing.

India wants access in a readable format to encrypted BlackBerry communication, on grounds it could be used by militants.

Officials say RIM proposes tracking emails without sharing encryption details, but that is not enough. A spokesman in India for the Waterloo, Ontario-based company made no comment.

This year, India restricted imports of Chinese telecoms network equipment over security fears. It is also worried about the introduction of 3G wireless services with no monitoring system in place.

RIM, unlike rivals Nokia and Apple, operates its own network through secure services located in Canada and other countries, such as Britain.

The BlackBerry image could suffer if users feel RIM has compromised its Enterprise email system. Corporate and consumer customers both use its BlackBerry Messenger instant messaging.

The German government has urged staffers not to use the BlackBerry and several ministries have banned them. The European Union Commission this month rejected the BlackBerry in favour of Apple's iPhone and HTC smartphones.

India seeks access to both email and Messenger, while Saudi Arabia has only targeted the instant messaging service.

RIM has said BlackBerry's Enterprise system lets customers create their own key, and the company has neither a master key nor a "back door" to allow it or any third party to access crucial corporate data.

Top telecoms firm Bharti Airtel, one of the biggest BlackBerry services providers, ended nearly 0.7 percentage down on the day at 317.55 rupees mainly due to concerns on earnings. The broader market was up 0.02 percent.

RIM shares closed up 1.7 percent at C$58.78 on Wednesday in a Toronto market that was down 2.2 percent. (Reuters)

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