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Report: RIM offers monitoring tools to India

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion offers the Indian government information and tools to help government agencies monitor communications sent via the BlackBerry, according to a report.

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion has offered the Indian government information and tools to help government agencies monitor communications sent via the BlackBerry's email and messaging services, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

The Journal said that according to the minutes of a July 26 meeting between RIM and government officials--part of an ongoing series of negotiations--the company said it had "a setup to agencies in tracking the messages in which security agencies are interested."

The Journal also reported that an Indian-penned summary of one of the discussions said RIM had agreed it could provide information from encrypted corporate e-mails such as when, from whom, and to whom an e-mail had been sent. And the Journal said that during the negotiations, RIM agreed to build tools that would help Indian agencies monitor data on third-party chat applications that run on the BlackBerry, such as Gmail.

The news is the latest in the saga of the Canadian company's efforts to address government security concerns in developing markets and prevent itself from being shut out of those markets by government bans.

On Thursday, India said it would switch off BlackBerry messaging services in the country at the end of August unless RIM met its demands. And earlier this month, the company reportedly cut a deal with Saudi Arabia and sidestepped a ban there. Similar bans have been threatened in the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia.

Governments in these countries are concerned that the BlackBerry, which features stronger privacy safeguards than competing devices, could be used by terrorists and other criminals to avoid detection. RIM wants to maintain the reputation for privacy that has made it so popular with corporate customers, but it must also insure its access to these emerging markets. Though it remains the No. 1 smartphone maker in North America and No. 2 worldwide, it's increasingly being threatened by devices such as Apple's iPhone and gadgets that run on Google's Android operating system. And as the North American market becomes saturated, places such as the Middle East offer the best chance for continued growth.

Another facet of the situation involves concerns over free speech. While acknowledging the security dangers of encrypted messaging, the U.S. government and others have voiced concerns over clampdowns on the BlackBerry. For example, the Saudi government blocks some Internet content for political reasons, and some have suggested that its pressure on RIM has been an effort by the country to exert more control over communications.

As the Journal points out, in countries such as the U.S. and Canada, law enforcement agencies typically need a court order to gain access to e-mail messages, but that in a country such as India, the legal requirements are not necessarily so black and white.

RIM issued a statement on Thursday to reassure its customers that it was negotiating with foreign governments "in the spirit of supporting legal and national security requirements, while also preserving the lawful needs of citizens and corporations."

The Journal said it was uncertain whether RIM's overtures toward the Indian government thus far would be enough to avoid a ban there. A more extreme measure would involve setting up a BlackBerry data center in the country, and the paper said the meeting notes to which it had access were not clear as to whether that option is being considered.

RIM did not return a call from CNET for comment by publication time.