Indonesia Turns Up Heat over Encrypted BlackBerry Phones

Indonesia appears to have stepped up the pressure on BlackBerry maker Research in Motion, as a minister says a team from the country’s anticorruption agency paid a visit to the company’s headquarters in Waterloo, Canada.

Communication and Information Technology Minister Tifatul Sembiring said he was informed about the trip by Chandra M Hamzah, a deputy commissioner of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), in a meeting with ministry officials this week on cybercrime and RIM.

Law enforcement officials, he said, could be interested in the heavily encrypted BlackBerry communications system. “People say that if [communications on] BlackBerry Messengers were deciphered, it would create a huge buzz because so much secret information is exchanged there,” Tifatul said late on Thursday.The minister said an Indian intelligence report said the terrorists involved in the Mumbai attacks communicated with one another by using BlackBerry services, hampering Indian authorities in detecting the plot.

RIM is embroiled in parallel disputes with India, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates over concerns the smartphone’s powerful encryption technology could be used as a cover for terrorism or criminal activity.

The ministry has been pressuring RIM to set up a database center and server in Indonesia in compliance with the 2008 Information and Electronic Transaction Law (ITE). Tifatul said the center would allow authorities to conduct lawful interceptions of e-mail and other messages, and the leasing of bandwidth for the servers would contribute revenue.

Indonesia’s move comes as the UN telecommunications chief said RIM should give global law-enforcement agencies access to its customer data. Hamadoun Toure, secretary general of the International Telecommunication Union, said authorities fighting terrorism had a right to demand access to users’ information from RIM.

That demand has been countered by privacy advocates who say the crackdown has been fueled by frustration within authoritarian governments over their inability to eavesdrop on their citizens. IT analysts, however, told the Jakarta Globe that the Indonesian government’s demands were reasonable.

Yono Reksoprodjo, an IT security analyst, said it was “important that a communication server is under direct surveillance of the authorities.”

I Made Wiryana, an IT expert from Gunadarma University, backed Yono’s assessment, adding that there also needs to be tighter controls over the monitoring of state information.

“State secrets passed among government officials might be leaked to a third party because the government does not have control over information management of the device,” he said.

He also said it would be easy for foreign telecoms to set up data servers locally, but legitimate concerns over infrastructure need to be addressed.


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