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BlackBerry ban in India delayed

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • BlackBerry maker and Indian government have been in talks for several weeks
  • The government is concerned about security breaches
  • One million people use BlackBerries in India
  • The government wants access to highly encrypted information

New Delhi, India (CNN) -- India's ban on BlackBerry services, which was expected to begin Tuesday, has been delayed pending a 60-day security test.

The country's home affairs department announced the delay Monday.

BlackBerry maker Research in Motion has been in talks with the Indian government for the past several weeks. They are locked in a battle over how much access the country's government should have to RIM's encrypted e-mail and messaging services.

A ban, if imposed, will have huge ramifications in India, one of the fastest growing telecommunications markets in the world.

More than 600 million Indians use cellular phones, according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India; 1 million of those are BlackBerries.

The loss for RIM is potentially huge in India. If it loses some of the services it offers, it could have a harder time attracting customers.

Earlier this month, India said it would block BlackBerry services starting Tuesday unless RIM, based in Canada, made the messages sent through them available to the government.

India's Ministry of Home Affairs posted a short, cryptic statement on its website Monday saying the BlackBerry maker agreed to "certain proposals for lawful access by law enforcement agencies."

The Indian government is worried that RIM's strong encryption makes it possible for terrorists to exchange messages over the network without being monitored. But RIM has pointed out that other messaging services in India also use heavy encryption, and says its BlackBerry network shouldn't be singled out.

India's Department of Telecommunications said it will "study the feasibility" of providing local BlackBerry services only through a server in India.

A report is expected in 60 days, and the Ministry of Home Affairs will review the situation at that time.

India was shaken after suspected Pakistani militants attacked Mumbai in November 2008, leaving more than 160 people dead.

In that incident, the government eventually tapped into satellite phone conversations between the terrorists and their handlers, but the attack was already under way.

Vikram Sood, a retired Indian intelligence agent, said India would be completely blindsided if terrorists used BlackBerries to plot an attack and the devices were inaccessible by the government.

"So what do you do? React after the fact?" Sood said earlier this month. "If you react after the fact, the explosion has taken place or a terrorist act has taken place, 100 people, 150 people have died.

"Who is liable for that? Is BlackBerry going to be liable because it was withholding information in a manner of speaking? So isn't it better to share? Knowledge and information from all sources is necessary, there are no two ways about it."

Telecom operators in the country seem to be hedging their bets. They're working up contingency plans, but not really expecting to lose BlackBerry services, especially considering that RIM was able to make concessions and strike a deal with Saudi Arabia to avoid a ban.

The United Arab Emirates has also threatened RIM with a shutdown of services if access to encrypted information is not granted.