Research In Motion, the BlackBerry’s Canadian maker, gave no immediate indication that it would accede to the latest pressure from an emerging economy to open up its services to security agencies.
“If a technical solution is not provided by August 31, 2010, the government will review the position and take steps to block” BlackBerry email and messenger services, India’s home ministry said on Thursday.
New Delhi, battling insurgencies ranging from Kashmir in the northwest to the far-flung northeast, fears that heavily encrypted BlackBerry communications could be used by militants.
Islamic extremists used mobile and satellite phones to coordinate the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people.
The Indian announcement came after Saudi Arabia on Tuesday postponed imposing a BlackBerry ban as the ultra-conservative Muslim country reported progress in solving its own security concerns.
The United Arab Emirates, however, has said it will ban BlackBerry messenger, email and web browsing services from October 11 for security reasons. That has prompted expressions of concern from the US government.
In response to the Indian threat, RIM said it tried to be as cooperative as possible with governments “in the spirit of supporting legal and national security requirements”.
But it also wanted to preserve “the lawful needs of citizens and corporations”, according to a RIM statement.
Analysts have noted that other security-conscious countries such as China and Russia appear to be satisfied over their intelligence agencies’ level of access to BlackBerry communications.
But the company insisted: “RIM maintains a consistent global standard for lawful access requirements that does not include special deals for specific countries.”
The Indian warning came after a high-level meeting Thursday between the home ministry and intelligence agencies, and the end-August deadline was relayed to Indian telecoms firms that offer BlackBerry services.
India’s security concerns are not confined to RIM with other communications providers such as Google and the Internet telephony firm Skype also in its sights, according to Friday’s Financial Times.
Quoting minutes from a July 12 meeting between Indian officials and telecoms and Internet providers, the FT said the government wanted a broad solution to enable possible interception and monitoring of all Internet-based traffic.
“There was consensus that there (is) more than one type of service for which solutions are to be explored,” the minutes by the telecommunications ministry’s security wing said, according to the FT.
“Some of them are BlackBerry, Skype, Google etc,” the minutes said. “It was decided first to undertake the issue of BlackBerry and then the other services.”
Internet giant Google is already locked in tension with Beijing over state censorship and cyberattacks that the US company says originated in China, the world’s largest online market with 420 million users.
India is another coveted prize for communications providers. It is the world’s fastest-expanding cellular market and already has a million BlackBerry customers.
If the ban is imposed, BlackBerry corporate or “enterprise” customers in India would only be able to use their handsets for phone calls and web browsing.
But Kunal Bajaj, head of Analysys Mason, expressed doubt the government would execute its threat.
“Even if BlackBerry wanted to provide access, what the government is asking is technically not feasible,” he told AFP.