Cross Connection over BlackBerry

Jatin Gandhi has covered politics and policy for over a decade now for print, TV and the web. He is Deputy Political Editor at Open.
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For one hand not knowing what the other is up to, turn to the Indian Government. As the Home Ministry was planning to ban BlackBerry services, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) was buying 1,000 BlackBerry handsets. Ironically, the CBDT falls under the Ministry of Finance which scowls at wasteful expenditure by other ministries.

The purchase was exposed by two separate RTI applications.

In response to one, the Finance Ministry confirmed on 2 February that the ‘Income Tax Department is in the process of purchasing 1,000 BlackBerry handsets and the purchase rates are in the process of finalisation.’ Sources say the sets cost close to Rs 40,000 each, while the CBDT has struck a deal at around Rs 30,000 apiece. That’s still Rs 3 crore of public money.

The second RTI filed with the Home Ministry revealed that all this money could go waste because the Government wants to ‘intercept and monitor the BlackBerry messenger service in a readable format’.

BlackBerry encrypts this service, denying the Government access to it. Canadian firm Research in Motion (RIM), which runs the service, was initially reluctant to yield its codes. Faced with a ban, it did provide codes for the messenger service but says emails are beyond its control.

The Government has now put the onus of providing this access on telecom service operators. The operators are, however, in no position to give the Government what it wants. The standoff could well spell the end of BlackBerry services in India.