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BlackBerry to Quit Pakistan after Backdoor Access Demands

Secure smartphone maker BlackBerry has said it has been forced to quit Pakistan after claiming the government demanded “unfettered access” to the information of all BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) customers in the country.

The Canadian firm’s mobile operator partners were told in July that BES servers would no longer be allowed to operate in the country “for security reasons,” according to COO Marty Beard.

“The truth is that the Pakistani government wanted the ability to monitor all BlackBerry Enterprise Service traffic in the country, including every BES e-mail and BES BBM message,” he added in a blog post.

“But BlackBerry will not comply with that sort of directive. As we have said many times, we do not support ‘back doors’ granting open access to our customers’ information and have never done this anywhere in the world.”

He went on to argue that Pakistan’s request was not about public safety but gaining access to all BES customers’ info whenever it wished.

“While we recognize the need to cooperate with lawful government investigative requests of criminal activity, we have never permitted wholesale access to our BES servers,” he added.

BlackBerry has been under this kind of pressure before—most notably in a long-running dispute with the Indian authorities, which had demanded it locate BES servers within the country.

However, it seemed on that occasion that it managed to protect its BES customers, giving way instead on allowing the authorities to track its consumer services inside the country.

The final day thousands of corporate BES customers will be able to use the service in Pakistan will be 30 December—leaving them with little time to find a secure alternative.

Although the original request covered just BES customers, the firm has decided to withdraw altogether.

Rafael Laguna, CEO of web comms firm Open-Xchange, argued that BlackBerry’s decision should be a wake-up call to the British government, which is currently debating whether to force providers into weakening end-to-end encryption.

“If you force providers to compromise encryption policies that are the basis of their value proposition they will simply withhold their services from your citizens,” he added.

“Providers have responsibilities to users beyond their borders, so countries compromising such responsibilities run the risk of being excluded from service. While we don't know all the reasons, BlackBerry should still be praised for its commitment to protecting the privacy rights of its global customers.”

Photo © Svetlana Dikhtyareva/Shutterstock.com

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