Canadian Manufacturing

BlackBerry to exit Pakistan rather than comply with demand for server access

BlackBerry said in a blog post that the privacy of its customers is paramount and something on which it won't compromise



WATERLOO, Ont.—BlackBerry Ltd. is standing firm on its promise to close its operations in Pakistan rather than accept that country’s demands for “unfettered” access to its BES servers, even after a one-month delay in the government’s deadline.

The Waterloo, Ont.-smartphone company said in a blog post that it will continue to operate in Pakistan until Dec. 30 as a result of a one-month extension to a compliance order issued by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority in July.

BlackBerry had said previously that it would pull out of Pakistan rather than comply with a demand for full access to content on its BlackBerry Enterprise Service by Nov. 30.

The company says the Pakistani government wants the ability to monitor all traffic in the country, including every BES email and BES BBM. BES communications are routed through the company’s servers in Canada.

BlackBerry says it’s willing to work with Pakistani authorities to protect public safety, but that the privacy of its customers is paramount and something on which it won’t compromise.

BlackBerry operations chief Marty Beard said in a blog post that the company recognizes the need to co-operate with lawful government investigations of criminal activity, but it has never permitted wholesale access to BlackBerry servers.

The company has built its reputation on security, buying up specialized software firms and marketing its phones, including the new Priv, on their privacy features.

Laura Tribe, a digital rights expert with the OpenMedia advocacy group, said it was encouraging that BlackBerry and other companies are standing up for users’ privacy in the face of demands from governments.

“They’re actually willing to draw a line in the sand somewhere to not undermine the technologies that we need to keep our information safe,” she said.

This isn’t the first time BlackBerry has faced a potential ban.

India and several other countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, threatened to ban BlackBerry in 2010 because of the company’s refusal to hand over control of customer data.

Like Pakistan is doing now, India cited public safety and its efforts to combat militants in the wake of the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, its financial capital, that killed 166 people. Indian officials said the 10 heavily armed gunmen who rampaged through the city used mobile phones to co-ordinate the attack.

Pressure eased after BlackBerry, then Research in Motion, was able to convince each country to comply with its existing lawful access policies.

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