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Why terrorists love the BlackBerry

Last updated on: August 24, 2010 16:56 IST

Vicky Nanjappa

Vicky Nanjappa finds out why the Indian government is so keen to access e-mails sent via the BlackBerry.

Why is the government pressurising the Canadian company, Research in Motion, to hand over the encryption keys for its popular BlackBerry device?

Sources said the decision goes back to the Mumbai terror attacks of November 26-29, 2008, during which the terrorists used the BlackBerry extensively to communicate with their handlers in Pakistan.

Following the 26/11 attacks, the Intelligence Bureau submitted a dossier to the home ministry, included in which was a section on how the terrorists monitored the police operation using technology and exchanged e-mails over their BlackBerry devices.


Why terrorists love the BlackBerry

So popular is the BlackBerry among the terror network that sources in the Intelligence Bureau told that one out of 10 terrorists today use it.

It is a known fact among intelligence circles that the Lashkar-e-Tayiba has in place a competent technical cell that is aware that Indian security agencies do not have access to the encryption keys, making it next to impossible for them to monitor e-mails transmitted on the Blackberry.

Although RIM has blinked a little and said it will share information with the Indian agencies, the latter is not happy about it.

"The problem is they have told us that information would be shared, but it would not be real time," sources in the Intelligence Bureau told this correspondent. "Such information is of no use to us. Delay by even one day can prove fatal and if we agree to what they are saying then we will get information from them a week late, which is just not good enough."

Why terrorists love the BlackBerry

The IB's 26/11 dossier points out that terrorist groups know that e-mails sent from computers and laptops can be traced by the intelligence agencies, and as a consequence the number of such traditional e-mails has fallen drastically.

Today the preferred mode of communication in the terror network seems to be the satellite phone and the BlackBerry, since they are confident that security agencies will not be able to track them.

To back their claim, IB sources pointed out that of late, most of the arrested terrorists have been found to be carrying such devices, procured under benami (false) identities and using fake documents.

Since the intelligence agencies are unable to track the terrorists' e-mails, they have had to fall back on interrogation and confessions, which run the possibility of being denied in a court of law -- and ultimately, a low rate of conviction.

Why terrorists love the BlackBerry

"Since the BlackBerry servers are based in other countries and we do not have treaties with those nations, it is very important that they hand over the information to us," the sources added.

"If access to real time information is not given to us, the terrorists will always manage to bypass our security agencies."

Also, the IB sources pointed out, local laws do not provide for a routing arrangement to intercept BlackBerry data which is why the Intelligence Bureau has been saying that a copy of all BlackBerry e-mails be made available to it.

If RIM is unable to do so, then it would need to move its servers to India to enable the agencies to keep tabs, with no international law coming in the way.