BlackBerry: National insecurity?

Updated: Aug 09, 2010, 17:01 PM IST

Rijo Jacob Abraham

The recent stand-off between Indian security agencies and Research In Motion (RIM), the makers of BlackBerrry, has more to do with the addiction and insecurity, rather than with “security and social concerns”.

BlackBerry has become a cult device, in a way different from that of iPhones. It is a classic no-frills phone that will leave you surprised with its sophistication and raw-power. It could be safely argued that it is the Lamborghini Gallardo of the smartphones – the pleasure coming from ethernet that gushes up its key pad, rather than with any wacky features. And yes, the matter of contention -- it is the most secure server of all the cellphones, needing no further mobile security features.

Anyone from President Barack Obama to the teens in Saudi Arabia could develop an instant craving to it.

Obama had to fight hard to keep his VZW 8830, as president emails and communications are considered public record. Finally, he was allowed to keep it with the phonebook limited to that of his close aides. (And amid all these, he unwittingly gave RIM a celebrity endorsement to the tune USD 50 million, according to estimates by marketing experts).

Obama now seems to have “come clean” from the device often dubbed “crackberry” as it’s as addictive as crack.

Maybe that’s why he stuck a puritanical stance at the Hampton University, a few months back: “With iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations—none of which I know how to work—information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment.”

(Or was he still promoting BlackBerry at the cost of iPad and Xboxes?)

Maybe that’s why US authorities chose the rhetoric of “democracy, freedom of information and human rights”, when their Saudi counterparts said they would ban at least BlackBerry’s messenger services by October 11, if RIM did not facilitate them to access the information sent from the cellphone.

Saudi Arabia, on its part, has a national security and a national insecurity concern to grapple with. The country relies largely on electronic surveillance for law and order than on troops. It also has the insecurity of its teens using it for courtship and for unadulterated porn.

India’s problem seems far too complicated. Though India raised the issue with RIM two years back, security officials started fretting only after reports came that RIM was setting up servers in China.

India suffers from a China-complex, all the time. It was evident in the telecom sector when India asked Chinese companies like Huawei to set up their manufacturing shops here, rather than importing products, on fear of Chinese spies swooping down to listen to Indian chatter.

China has been much more hawkish in its approach, when RIM approached it in 2006. When RIM began selling two years later in China, after allying security fears, India had only been beginning to raise the issue. In China, BlackBerry is a limited commodity subjected to all kind of self-censorship that Google is asked to do.

I wonder what the Obama administration says to the Chinese on Google and BlackBerry? And why will India fret over security at the wrong time, when its BlackBerry users have crossed 400,000?


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