There has been much debate around Research In Motion’s BlackBerry email service. The government wants that the country’s security agencies be able to intercept BlackBerry-based communications in the manner they can intercept a phone call.

While the objective is to set up a monitoring mechanism to look into any possible misuse of the service from a national security viewpoint, much rebuke has still surfaced in the face of a potential infringement of consumer privacy.

Interestingly, it appears that much of the debate is happening among the stakeholders other than consumers themselves.

Telephone calls have potentially been intercepted by government security agencies for long, but one can easily see that subscribers have not really been bothered and disturbed by that.

If that is because telephony is more representative of 1.0 communication paradigms, then let’s look at the 2.0 communication platforms, best represented by the social media sites.

Much of the communication — even personal — on social media sites is strikingly open and free-to-all. In fact, the growth of social networking sites can be seen as a live testimony to the fact that 2.0 consumers pay little importance to ensuring the privacy of their personal communication.

Further, research and advisory firm Gartner had forecasted in the beginning of this year that social media services will replace e-mail as the primary vehicle for interpersonal communications for 20 percent of business users. Logically, this implies that communication privacy will be becoming less and less of a concern for consumers as they make the shift from a somewhat regimented e-mail to the flatter and open communication platforms.

In other words, the boundary between public communication and personal communication will also become less and less strict.

From a national security perspective, a positive fallout of this is that it will be increasingly difficult for communication on a social media channel to be hidden to all but the intended recipient only.

We are moving towards an era of communication where consumers of communication services themselves can play a role in identifying communication chains and threads that smack of threat to national or social security.

Facebook communities can also serve like “neighbourhood watch areas,” a real-world concept that was effectively used in some cities a couple of decades ago, to curb anti-social activities of criminals.

BlackBerry is no longer an elite service used only by a few thousand subscribers. There are millions of users subscribing to the service.

It can be virtually impossible to monitor and check all communication that is dangerous to national security, by employing traditional methods of interception.

And it is not just the BlackBerry. The government agencies are even more worried about the potential dangers posed by 3G and LTE services that could see usage of Internet-based VoIP services picking up, which would be hard to intercept.

Interception is a 1.0 paradigm and can only have limited success in a 2.0 communication scenario that is rapidly evolving. State security agencies will need to identify and develop newer models for preventing dangerous misuse of 2.0 communication channels.

Ways that proactively involve consumers would be effective while also handling consumer privacy in a transparent manner.

(As published in Deccan Chronicle, August 12, 2010.)

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