Instant messaging: Enhanced communication or security threat?

Several countries have expressed concern over the use of instant messaging services like Blackberry in their countries.  Saudi Arabia was due to ban the service from 6th August, but did not do so. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is due to ban the service in October.

The main complaints of these countries has been the alleged threat to security posed by the service and the fact that it is difficult for them to monitor the communications, because the data is encrypted and sent to Canada to be decoded. The UAE’s telecom regulator, TRA has denied that the suspension of Blackberry in the UAE from 11th October has to do with censorship and claims it is due to Blackberry not complying with UAE telecommunications regulations.  However, there was an alleged attempt by TRA to install spyware on to Blackberry and in 2007, they were refused access by RIM to the code for the encrypted networks to monitor communications.

India has also voiced complaints about the service, in terms of it posing a threat to national security and is in talks with the Blackberry manufacturer, Research in Motion (RIM) about how best to resolve these issues.  For India the main problem is that of terrorism and the ease with which potential terrorists can use the service.  As such the government wants to monitor communication, as a senior anonymous security official stated for Reuters “Wherever there is a concern on grounds of national security the government will want access and every country has a right to lawful interference.  We have concerns regarding [Google and Skype] services on grounds of national security and all those services which cannot be put to lawful interference.”

RIM has thus found itself in a difficult situation and is trying to balance both government demands and the privacy of its customers.  It has also been argued that if governments were able to access these encrypted communications, it would only serve to make potential terrorists use other forms of communication that the government cannot access. This would seem to create a greater threat to national security.

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