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BlackBerry 10 revives RIM's chances at federal agency

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency had said it would dump BlackBerry in favor of the iPhone. Now it'll run a pilot program for new BB10 devices.

Research In Motion's test unit for BlackBerry 10.
Research In Motion's test unit for BlackBerry 10.

Research In Motion's upcoming BlackBerry 10 is being eyed by one government agency that had already planned to switch to iPhones.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency will take a look at BB10 starting in January. The agency plans to launch a pilot program to test BlackBerry 10 devices and the BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 to see if the new operating system can meet its needs for security and mobility. ICE will be among the first government agencies to give BB10 a spin, according to Research In Motion.

"ICE has been a valued BlackBerry customer for years, and our commitment to government agencies has influenced the development of the BlackBerry 10 platform," Scott Totzke, RIM's senior vice president for BlackBerry Security, said in a statement. "We look forward to sharing more features of the BlackBerry 10 platform at our global launch event on January 30."

BlackBerry 10 recently picked up FIPS 140-2 certification, which guarantees that customer data is secure and encrypted. The certification is considered critical for government agencies that handle sensitive information.

ICE press secretary Barbara Gonzales told CNET that the agency has had a good, long relationship with RIM and that it plans to continue that relationship. ICE is looking to develop mobile applications for law enforcement and will review BB10 to see how it may be able to provide a platform in the future.

This is the same ICE that revealed in October it was planning to dump its BlackBerry devices in favor of the iPhone. Announcing that it intended to buy iPhones for more than 17,600 of its employees, the agency praised Apple's hardware and OS as a better fit for its technology needs.

Does the BB10 pilot program mean that RIM is back in the running?

"We're not backing away from iOS, nor RIM," Gonzales said. "Given the nature of the rapidly evolving marketplace for computing and the rising expectations of our users for that technology, we see the need to maintain a set of services that support ICE's mission. We feel the pilot is a prudent technology practice."

BlackBerry was once the standard for many corporations and government agencies, which favored RIM's OS for its high level of security and encryption. But more of its former customers have been switching to newer iPhones and Android devices. RIM is counting on its upcoming BB10 to help turn that tide.

Updated 7:25 a.m. PT with comment from ICE.