French government members and their advisors have been told not to use BlackBerry smartphones, because messages could be intercepted by US intelligence agencies.
The BlackBerry mobile email service "poses a problem of data security," because messages reach BlackBerry devices through US and British servers, said Alain Juillet, senior economic intelligence advisor to the French Prime Minister, according to a report in Le Monde.
BlackBerry manufacturer RIM denied the French fears: "The NSA does not have the ability to view the content of any data communication sent through BlackBerry IT servers," a spokesperson told ITN. "All data communications sent through the BlackBerry IT servers are encrypted and the origin of the emails cannot be traced or analysed for content."
"RIM continues to be committed to working with and supporting the needs of both corporate and government customers within France," said the spokesman, "including protecting data from attack and unauthorised access."
The ban on BlackBerry devices is just one of the IT challenges facing new National Assembly members as they take their seats following Sunday's elections, and many are expected to continue using the devices in secret.
Juillet was appointed director of intelligence for the French General Directorate of External Security, the country's foreign security service, in October 2002, and moved to the role of senior economic intelligence advisor in December 2003.
In his most recent post, he has long maintained that French government and businesses should be more wary of how they use technology to exchange information.
The French Secretary-General for National Defense first circulated advice to government officials two years ago, warning them not to use BlackBerry devices. That same advice has now been reissued, Juillet's office said Wednesday.
"Recent news reports, originating in France and rehashing a two-year-old rumour that speculates that data transmitted over the BlackBerry Enterprise Solution can be intercepted and read by the NSA (National Security Agency) in the U.S. or other 'spy' organisations are based on false and misleading information," RIM said in a statement issued Wednesday.
NATO and the U.K. government have approved the BlackBerry Enterprise Solution for the wireless transmission of sensitive data under "restricted" classification, RIM said. Security agencies in the US, Australia, New Zealand, Austria and Canada have accredited the network, with additional certification processes underway in the Netherlands and Germany.
The republication of the advice coincides with the arrival of newly elected officials and their advisors, unfamiliar with the French administration's rules and traditions on using IT, in the National Assembly, following Sunday's national elections.
Many of the new arrivals will face another IT challenge as they move into their offices at the National Assembly: learning to use an unfamiliar suite of software on their computer.
Last year, the outgoing National Assembly voted to install open-source software on their desktop machines. That software is already installed on the machines of the assembly's existing members: new members get their software update after being allocated an office. Government officials were not immediately available to identify which open-source software is being used.
Ben Ames in Boston contributed to this story.
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