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RIM says India won't have access to encrypted data

Unscrambling encrypted email on devices used by BlackBerry business customers isn't technically feasible, says Research In Motion , disputing a report that authorities in India will have access to such content.

The Canadian smartphone company said Thursday that a report by the Economic Times of India about allowing access to the encrypted data sent by corporate users is "inaccurate and misleading."

RIM said the story implies that it is "somehow enabling access to data" transmitted through its business server system.

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"This is both false and technologically infeasible," the Waterloo, Ont., company said in a statement.

Indian officials have said they want real-time access to encrypted data to fend off possible terrorist attacks. BlackBerry smartphones were used by the terrorists to monitor online news about the Mumbai attacks in 2008.

Research In Motion has repeatedly said that it doesn't possess a "master key" to allow it or any third party to gain access to encrypted corporate data under any circumstances.

RIM has also said that locating servers in India wouldn't make any difference since all data remain encrypted at all times through all points of transfer between the BlackBerry enterprise server and the customer's device.

The Indian newspaper has reported that RIM has offered to install a "network data analysis system" in that country to allow government security agencies to intercept BlackBerry data.

The business paper's report was based on an internal note from the government's home ministry.

But RIM said it was already co-operating with Indian authorities on access to its consumer services, like the real-time BlackBerry messenger service.

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RIM said the so-called network data analysis system is a tool required to allow carriers in India to provide lawful access to the Canadian company's consumer services, including the BlackBerry instant messaging service, which have a lower level of security.

RIM said this type of lawful access is also required by the Indian government for consumer services provided by RIM's competitors in that country.

"This is not new information as RIM has repeatedly confirmed that it is co-operating with the government of India and enabling carriers to lawfully access consumer services to the same degree imposed on RIM's competitors in India.

Deloitte Canada analyst Duncan Stewart said RIM is being targeted because it's a high-profile company even though other encryption technologies are in use globally and would be impossible to ban.

"So, in picking on RIM, on some level you're picking on what is the easiest and most visible target to stop," said Stewart, Deloitte's director of Canadian research in technology, media and telecommunications.

"You can actually put pressure on individual companies like Research In Motion," he said from Toronto. "Governments around the world do this to various companies."

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But despite multiple threats to shut down RIM in various countries, nobody has done it yet, Stewart noted.

"I don't expect anybody to shut them down. It's a back and forth and it's a process and it's politics."

Research In Motion also said it's not facing a Jan. 31 deadline by the Indian government to resolve the matter and that work on security concerns continues.

India has more than one million BlackBerry users. It's a fast-growing market for RIM as it expands in regions such as Asia, the Middle East and South America, regions outside increasingly competitive North America where it is fighting Apple's iPhone and Google-powered Android smartphones for dominance.

RIM has faced similar pressure over security concerns from governments in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

Analyst Tero Kuittinen of MKM Partners research and investment firm said he expects the matter to be resolved with the Indian government.

"I think the way it was solved in the Middle East is an encouraging sign because I am assuming the terrorist threat is more substantial in the Middle East than it is in India," Kuittinen said from New York.

Next year will be an important year for RIM as it launches the PlayBook computer tablet and new phones.

There have already been reports that early units of the PlayBook had a short battery life compared with Apple's iPad and Samsung's Galaxy tablet.

"RIM is on track with its schedule to optimize the BlackBerry PlayBook's battery life and looks forward to providing customers with a professional grade tablet that offers superior performance with comparable battery life," the company said.

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