The Bee, the Blackberry and the Better half

24 Sep

So what will the Bee do if his rosary goes into a coma? I had woken up to this slightly sadistic thought on a rainy morning early last week. It was judgement day – would Blackberry remain RIM’s pride or would it lose its ‘elite, untouchable, un-eavesdrop-able’ status and become a ‘normal’ phone? For the last few weeks the buzz in the media was that RIM (Research in Motion), the Canadian mobile communication giant who manufactures Blackberry was set to have a face off with representatives of the Indian mobile communication companies and government representatives over security issues. And I did have my reasons to follow the story closely and derive a mild form of sadistic pleasure from RIM’s Blackberry woes.

On a particularly muggy summer evening in 2006, the Bee had walked in through the door, without any files or his laptop. I had taken a few minutes to come to terms with the fact that he had not brought work home. And then he had withdrawn this impressive looking, slightly bulky, black and chrome Blackberry. Little did me, the gadget enthusiast, know what this unassuming, feature rich mobile with a QWERTY keyboard had in store for me. This did mean that he did not bring much work home. But, conversely it meant he brought his office home, that too 24X7. And from that sticky, sultry evening had begun this Biwi‘s woes with the Bee’s BB passion. Gone were the quiet evenings, the free time he had after work and at times the quiet of the night would not be spared either. As if spending most part of his living daylight at his office and leaving for home only after the janitor threatened to lock him in was not enough,  he was now connected with the world. So when our part of the world were curled up in bed, snug under their sheets, he was providing solutions to and fire fighting for the other half of the world that was waking up to day. In short, my privacy had been invaded upon, usurped and Blackberried as the Bee had been rendered ‘Crack-berried’. I’m not saying that I enroled in any anti-Blackberry or  Blackberry-widow brigade. But yes, I did have issues with sitting up with a jolt at the dead of  the night with the Blackberry going berserk with incoming emails or some alert or my conversations cut off in between by rude intervention of the shrill rings.

And now my foe-for-so-long had become the enemy of the Indian state too. What is already known to most avid Blackberry users is that   the smartphone’s technology ensures complete privacy to its user. From the very beginning RIM’s USP has been privacy. The phone works on push technology, wherein the user has his/her emails redirected to their mailbox over their mobile network  by the BES (Blackberry Enterprise Server). The Blackberry comes with a unique PIN (personal identification number) which is integrated with the BES. “Assigned with an individual personal identification number (PIN), all Blackberry handsets are integrated with the BES. The BES, acting as an email relay, keeps tracking the users mailbox and other websites whose services are requested by the user. RIMs network operation centre further relays the message to the network service provider to be delivered to the users. The data which travels between the server and the handset is compressed and encrypted with recently advanced encryption standard.” How RIM makes this even more foolproof by rendering this data inaccessible to normal receivers. The encrypted data  can be read only by the software which have the key to the algorithmic encryption. In other words, the emails exchanged over Blackberry and the messages exchanged via the Blackberry Messenger are completely private, no one has access to them from the other networks. Even Government agencies, who have their reasons to tap in on various modes of communication, have no way of getting to this data unless they are given the key to the encryption codes.

And that is why the Indian security agencies grew uncomfortable. With an alarming rise in security threats to our country, the spooks want to know everything that happens, every piece of information that is exchanged over the net or any other form of communication and want to keep a step ahead of terrorists to foil any future threats. The wounds of the 26/11 bloodbath in Mumbai are yet to heal. And ‘what if?’ is a question we haven’t stopped asking ourselves. An un-tappable channel of communication under such circumstances only makes things a little more complicated. What if the terrorists are plotting yet another ghastly attack and using the secure Blackberry Messenger to communicate? What if they are successful yet again? The Indian security agencies were not ready to accept a major hurdle like this. They insisted that RIM give access to the data encryption keys to the agencies to enable easy access to the vast body of data that exchanged over the secured Blackberry Messenger as well as the millions of mails exchanged by the users.

Well, it took a threat to ban Blackberry in India, a deadline and a minor log jam and RIM conceded. It agreed to give the Indian  security agencies access to its Messenger services to tap in on data exchanges and reduce the risk of future security threats.

And where did all this leave this woe begotten biwi, nowhere really. You see, the Bee was in the midst of upgrading his earlier Blackberry into the latest Blackberry Pearl when Blackberry sales were suspended in India and service providers decided to wait and watch the outcome. But when the Bee wills a way opens itself up on its own, so his company decided to bring in his Pearl from the UK. Thus the Biwi’s struggle to usurp the BB continues …

Picture courtsey :

Read it on my TOI blog : Freeze Frame

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Posted by on September 24, 2010 in Uncategorized


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