Earlier today, BlackBerry's Chief Operating Officer (COO), Marty Beard, published a blog post announcing the company's exit from Pakistan after the local government threatened it with a shut down if it doesn't provide complete access to all BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) traffic data. Soon after the post was published, the Pakistani government delayed its shutdown order by another month, until the end of the year, which prompted BlackBerry to delay its exit as well.
In July, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority notified the local wireless carriers that BlackBerry's BES servers would no longer be allowed to operate in the country for "security reasons."
BlackBerry believes that the government doesn't actually want to shut down its service, but it's more of an ultimatum to force the company to give it access to its BES traffic data, which includes BES emails and BES BBM messages.
In his post, Beard also said that the company does not support granting "back door" access to its "customers' information," and that it hasn't done it anywhere in the world. This seems to contradict his own words from only two weeks ago that the company takes a "balanced approach" to encryption, unlike some of BlackBerry's competitors, who are "all about encryption all the way."
The statement seemed strange considering BlackBerry has just launched a privacy-focused smartphone, and it has always allowed companies to keep their own private keys. Perhaps this is where BlackBerry makes the distinction. It can be persuaded to give access to the data of regular BlackBerry users, but not the data of enterprise users. This would be backed up by the company's previous actions in the past, when it gave BBM access to the Indian and Saudi governments.
As its market share in both enterprise, but especially the consumer smartphone markets, dwindles, BlackBerry is trying to keep what's left of its reputation intact. This could be why in its recent blog post, BlackBerry re-affirmed its commitment to the security of corporate, government and military customers, but it didn't mention protecting the security of regular consumers as well.
In the past, BlackBerry seemed too quick to react to local government threats that its service would be shut down, and as such it agreed to allow access to the data of regular consumers. However, as we're seeing now, most of the time the governments are unwilling to follow up on that. They seem to merely want BlackBerry to be afraid and give up its customers' privacy. If BlackBerry, and other companies, would fight harder for their users' privacy, most governments would have no choice but to accept the situation and give up. Otherwise, they could face having other companies leave the country and harm their own economies.
Lucian Armasu joined Tom’s Hardware in early 2014. He writes news stories on mobile, chipsets, security, privacy, and anything else that might be of interest to him from the technology world. Outside of Tom’s Hardware, he dreams of becoming an entrepreneur.
You can follow him at @lucian_armasu. Follow us on Facebook, Google+, RSS, Twitter and YouTube.
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