I was not at all surprised to read today that the government of India is considering shutting down or limiting BlackBerry, Google, Skype and similar services that bypass the monitoring department of India’s scrutiny.
Last Thursday, India threatened to ban BlackBerry services unless the device's manufacturer makes them accessible to its security agencies by Aug. 31, according to a report from Associated Press. On Friday, BlackBerry maker Research In Motion’s (RIM) VP Robert Crowe met with Home Ministry officials in New Delhi to try to avoid the ban, with Crowe expressing optimism following the session.
The Indian officials' immediate concern was the BlackBerry, but they also plan to look at other services that use encryption for e-mail and messaging services, says AP. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also have threatened to cut off popular BlackBerry services unless they get greater access to the communications stream, citing security concerns related to encrypted information sent by the cell phones that gets routed through servers overseas.
The report also included the inevitable warning that “Rights groups fear such access could be abused.” But really, are we surprised that sovereign nations that have been widely associated with terrorist incidents want to do all they can to protect their citizens, not to mention their image as trading partners? We’re not talking here about keeping a lid on some sordid little affair involving cigars and an extra-large pizza. We are talking about communications that enable horrible acts like India’s 2008 Mumbai attack to occur.
It may be useful to remember that government monitoring of communication reaches way back to the days when telephones actually had rotary dialers (yes, I am old enough to remember that). It is pretty much common knowledge that police and other authorities can access telephone records to assist in their work, and most of us are not living in mortal fear that our rights will be abused because this happens.
More concerning for me, however, is the very real possibility that technology will somehow become the scapegoat; that we will blame our devices because we really don’t want to blame ourselves. RIM says that it maintains a consistent global standard for legal access to encrypted information, which precludes making specific deals for specific countries, according to AP. All such access must be governed by a country's laws, and must be equally applied to all vendors and technologies, RIM says. Unfortunately for this line of reasoning, if each country’s unique laws govern access, a global standard obviously cannot apply to every country.
I’m sure they will figure that out sooner or later.
As insurers, brokers, financial houses and others wrestle with the thorny problem of allowing—or not allowing—wireless devices to touch their networks, it is important to remember that the devices themselves, while certainly imperfect, are not the problem when it comes to security against skullduggery and murder—any more than the telephone was 80 years ago.
The problem, in a word, is evil, and the solution is to use every weapon in our arsenals, including technology, to fight it.
Ara C. Trembly (www.aratremblytechnology.com) is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services.
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