Rejecting the Call for Encryption Backdoors, Blackberry Pulls Out of Pakistan

by Matt Klassen on December 4, 2015

Stop me if you’ve heard this story before: Blackberry establishes unbreakable encryption standards for its suite of communication products, governments and law enforcement agencies decry the fact they no longer have access to these mobile communications, said governments and agencies pressure Blackberry for a backdoor, Blackberry is stuck between a rock and hard place.

While this tale played out over and over again several years ago, leaving Blackberry on the brink of collapse, the story, for some reason, is replaying itself yet again, this time in Pakistan, where the Pakistani government had recently threatened to impose bans on Blackberry’s Enterprise Service operating in the country, a threat that Blackberry didn’t take kindly to.

The only difference now with the news that Blackberry will cease operations in Pakistan over the company’s refusal to knuckle-under to government demands for backdoor access, is that Blackberry is no longer the dominant mobile firm it once was, in fact it is still teetering on the precipice of complete and utter irrelevance.

It was this past summer that the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority’s issued a ban on BlackBerry Enterprise Services (BES), one that was initially scheduled to take effect at the end of November, but had since been postponed to the end of this month. The government requested complete and unfettered access to Blackberry’s message traffic, citing security reasons. Blackberry subsequently refused, the ban was issued, Blackberry stood firm, and here we are, with Blackberry COO Marty Beard announcing earlier this week that instead of meeting government demands, the company would exist the Pakistani market completely.

In a blog post, Beard wrote, “While we regret leaving this important market and our valued customers there, remaining in Pakistan would have meant forfeiting our commitment to protect our users’ privacy. That is a compromise we are not willing to make.” Beard explained that the Pakistani government demanded “the ability to monitor all BlackBerry Enterprise Service traffic in the country, including every BES e-mail and BES BBM message,” but the company, of course, refused, thus prompting the ban.

“As we have said many times,” Beard said, “we do not support ‘back doors’ granting open access to our customers’ information and have never done this anywhere in the world.”

While you may think that Blackberry’s irrelevance and/or the general insignificance of the Pakistani mobile market make this an insignificant story, consider that unlike here, Blackberry is still quite popular among the developing world, particularly nations where smartphone technology is still in its infancy. So while we saw this same battle play out in certain developing nations five years ago, consider this to be round two in the fight against encryption, a fight that will likely have several more rounds to go.

“It isn’t surprising that the Pakistani government would want this access,” said Alan Webber, research director for national security and intelligence at IDC.

“BlackBerry is still very prominent in the Asian markets, and of all the devices that are out there, it is among the hardest to backdoor,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Thankfully for Blackberry cutting ties with the Pakistani mobile market won’t be a deal-breaker for the company, as estimates put its customer base at approximately 10,000 in the entire country, not world-beating numbers for sure.

In fact, Blackberry was far more willing to talk when it was India or Saudi Arabia clamouring for more access, as they offered far more as far as growth potential than Pakistan currently does. But that’s not to say that Pakistan isn’t a growth market, as it is undergoing rapid telecom growth, it just seems that Blackberry doesn’t feel the need to be apart of it, for now at least.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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