UN official: BlackBerry Data Requests Legitimate

The chief of the UN's telecommunications agency urged the Canadian manufacturer of the BlackBerry to allow law enforcement agencies, including those in India, access to customer data, saying governments had legitimate security concerns, which should not be ignored. The International Telecommunication Union agency's Secretary-General Hamadoun Toure said that all governments engaged in the fight against terrorism had the right to demand access to users' information from the maker of the BlackBerry – Research in Motion Ltd. "Those are genuine requests," he said. "There is a need for cooperation between governments and the private sector on security issues".

RIM has said it complies with all legal requests, but is unable to provide anyone with the text of e-mails sent using its corporate service, which is designed from the ground up for secure communications. The International Telecommunication Union is responsible for coordinating the use of the global radio spectrum, promoting international cooperation in assigning satellite orbits, and establishing standards for the telecommunications industry.

The little-known body also serves as a global forum for discussion of cutting-edge communications issues. The agency has no independent regulatory power, but Toure's comments are a barometer of sentiment among the agency's 192 member states, who are expected to re-elect him to a second term later this year.

At least five of those members – India, Indonesia, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – are already considering banning some BlackBerry services over concerns that the devices' powerful data encryption could be used as a cover for terrorist and criminal activity. Civil libertarians have argued that the controversy is in fact fueled by authoritarian governments' inability to eavesdrop on BlackBerry-using citizens. Governments in the US and elsewhere have largely made their peace with encryption technology. E-mails can still be obtained through legal channels, for example by obtaining a warrant to search the corporate servers of companies that use BlackBerry. But that isn't enough for some officials in Asia and the Middle East, who have demanded that RIM modify its practices to allow them wholesale access to BlackBerry e-mails as they're being transmitted.

RIM has thrown up its hands, saying the way its system is set up prevents anyone except its clients from decrypting communications. The impasse has sent the company's share price plummeting, and on Friday RIM stock hit a 16-month low. A company representative in London did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Toure's remarks.

Published Date: Sep 03, 2010 11:37 am | Updated Date: Sep 03, 2010 11:37 am