Telecom operators wash their hands off Blackberry-encryption controversy

Despite raising a hullabaloo over getting access to blackberry encrypted messages for the last three years, the government is yet to get the ability to check such messages, it said on Wednesday.

While it was assumed that it now has the capacity to ‘screen’ all communications going in and out of India, the new statement clearly says security agencies are not able to decrypt or read all emails or messages.

They get a copy of the encrypted communication, thanks to a clause contained in the licenses of telecom and internet service providers, but they don’t know what to do with the data.

“Security agencies are able to intercept the services including Blackberry Messenger (BBM), Nokia, Pushmail, Skype, Yahoo, Gmail etc through the lawful interception facilities provided by the Telecom Service Providers. However, Security Agencies have intimated that they are not able to decrypt some encrypted intercepted communication to readable format,” the government said.

Earlier, the government had threatened to fine and disrupt telecom operators for failing to provide access to encrypted data carried on their networks.

The operators and phone companies had earlier tried to point out to the government that virtually no company or organization in the world has the technology to decrypt all the traffic on the Internet. But the home ministry was having none of that.

Now, the telecom operators seem to have washed their hands off the situation by dumping the raw, encrypted data on the government and telling it to deal with it.

“The Telecom Service Providers have stated that they have provided the requisite interception facilities to Security Agencies. With regard to decrypting the intercepted communication, it is stated that Telecom Service Providers are mere carriers, who are not supposed to know the content of the intercepted messages and may not be able to decrypt the content,” the ministry of communication and IT told the Parliament today.

The government said a new panel of experts has made some recommendations on how to go ahead in the matter, but did not specify what they were.

“A technical committee established by the Government analysed all the above issues in order to work out an appropriate solution to the problem which balances the requirements of Security Agencies with the secured communication needs of trade, commerce and industry.

“The complexities involved in the issue resulted in the committee being unable to come out with unanimous conclusive recommendations. The report of the committee and the comments of some the members on the Report were referred to a high level panel of experts who have since submitted their final recommendations on a focused and practical approach to the entire issue,” it said.