Canadian Manufacturing

As privacy battle rages in U.S., BlackBerry says firms must strike balance with police

Apple, Microsoft are pushing back against law enforcement data requests, but BlackBerry CEO says tech firms have duty to co-operate with police



WATERLOO, Ont.—The head of BlackBerry says tech companies have a duty to be “good corporate citizens” who co-operate with reasonable lawful requests from the police.

The comments were in response to a story last week by Vice, which reported the RCMP intercepted and decrypted more than a million BlackBerry messages as part of an investigation between 2010 and 2012.

The probe, dubbed “Project Clemenza,” involved the killing of a Mafia crime family member.

In a blog post Monday, BlackBerry chief executive John Chen said firms need to strike a balance between protecting the right to privacy and helping investigators apprehend criminals.

Chen wrote that the world is a “dark place” when companies put their reputations above the greater good.

He noted that the case resulted in a major criminal organization being dismantled.

“For BlackBerry, there is a balance between doing what’s right, such as helping to apprehend criminals, and preventing government abuse of invading citizen’s privacy, including when we refused to give Pakistan access to our servers,” Chen wrote.

“We have been able to find this balance even as governments have pressured us to change our ethical grounds. Despite these pressures, our position has been unwavering and our actions are proof we commit to these principles.”

Chen said the company’s BES server, a key part of its system, was not involved.

BlackBerry declined further comment.

The debate over police access to encrypted smartphone messages came to the forefront in recent weeks following a fight between Apple Inc. and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The FBI took Apple to court, in hopes of forcing it to help with accessing information on an iPhone used by a mass killer in the shootings in San Bernardino, Calif. The company refused, but the authorities eventually were able to hack into the phone themselves.

Meanwhile, the customer privacy battle reignited last week, with Microsoft launching a lawsuit against the U.S. government over secret requests for private data.

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