RIM's dilemma: BlackBerry fueled riots put core privacy principles at risk

RIM's dilemma: BlackBerry fueled riots put core privacy principles at risk

Summary: The BlackBerry maker faces a dilemma: give up encrypted riot-user message data, but lose ground in the niche and unique privacy messaging market.

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Research in Motion, the BlackBerry maker, faces a dilemma similar to a situation it faced in India earlier this year.

BlackBerry users in London have been taking to the secure Messenger application to organize riots across the British capital. Over the last four days of disorder, violence has spread to other major cities -- including Birmingham, Bristol, Nottingham and Manchester.

To be clear: this isn't RIM's fault. Just as people blame cyber-bullying on technology, it is the people behind the screens that are to blame.

Though RIM promised to assist the authorities wherever possible in tracking down those hiding behind the seemingly secure BlackBerry Messenger application, the Canadian-based company needs to maintain its security core focus.

Security and corporate privacy, after all, is the single most differentiating factor in the company's ethos.

RIM will not automatically hand over user data unless it is asked to do so. It could, but doing so would be irresponsible -- even unlawful under European data protection laws -- for the corporation that has a touch privacy stance to maintain. Instead, police will issue warrants to access specific data, which could be wide-ranging and in a broad scoped nature.

RIM can hand over data that would be pertinent to that of national security or an ongoing law enforcement investigation, however.

But where does that leave the reputation of the company, which prides itself on offering government-grade security?

Just as with the furor over encrypted emails in India earlier this year -- which is still contending with enforcing counter-terrorism measures in a difficult political climate -- the Indian government wanted to screen and inspect encrypted corporate emails.

RIM does not hold or have access to the encryption keys offered by its enterprise software. Police, law enforcement and intelligence services can ask until they are blue in the face, but RIM cannot hand over something it simply doesn't have.

However, as BlackBerry Messenger is a hosted service, run and controlled by RIM directly, the company can hand over this consumer led, albeit encrypted data, to police.

In reality, Research in Motion does not have a dilemma at all.

The only consideration it needs to take into account is how it can continue to market itself as a secure communications platform, when ultimately it is still vulnerable to the laws of the land.

Corporate encrypted data is out of RIM's reach, but not that of government. In the UK, if requested to by police, encryption keys must be handed over when data is liable to government inspection.

Whether clever marketing got in the way, one can only hypothesize. BlackBerrys are secure from corporate snooping, but consumers are not immune from government inspection.

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Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Mobile OS, BlackBerry, Security

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8 comments
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  • Message has been deleted.

    SinfoCOMAR
    • RE: RIM's dilemma: BlackBerry fueled riots put core privacy principles at risk

      @SinfoCOMAR I'll rephrase:
      A lawful requirement doesn't make RIM's (or any other's) platform less secure or of lower security grade. Why does the author only mention RIM? It's probably because BBM and Twitter were the main "tools" used by the rioters. However it's likely it wasn't the only IM involved.

      I believe the article could have been much better oriented and expose true privacy issues regarding governments, it's laws vs citizen's privacy rights.

      My two cents. Cheers!
      SinfoCOMAR
      • RE: RIM's dilemma: BlackBerry fueled riots put core privacy principles at risk

        @SinfoCOMAR
        I completely agree. I still cannot get over the fact of how ZDNet allows this Whittaker idiot to remain in its staff. His degree of immaturity is pathetic.
        rubenb@...
  • RE: RIM's dilemma: BlackBerry fueled riots put core privacy principles at risk

    Just another aspect of RIM's overall business model that apparently escaped their long-term vision. This is the only consistency I see with this company. They must've thought none of these nations or institutions would ever question any of their practices or request information when one of their customers was involved with a crime, using their products. I guess it just never crossed their minds. Oh well! This will be added to the list of "idiotic" mistakes RIM has made on their way out. Like I said, "Oh well!"
    SBMobile
    • RE: RIM's dilemma: BlackBerry fueled riots put core privacy principles at risk

      @SBMobile Really? Security (corporate that is) has been its strongest point in all these years. As the article said they simply cannot hand over what they do not posess. BBM on the other hand can be requisitioned by the law authorities, just like YOUR email can be.
      Franciscus101
  • RE: RIM's dilemma: BlackBerry fueled riots put core privacy principles at risk

    This is another "gun" argument. Guns don't kill people: people kill people. In this case, the blame lies with the rioters and the organizers, not RIM or it's technology. I really would like to know when the press will get the point. Grow up people...
    MBorsick
    • RE: RIM's dilemma: BlackBerry fueled riots put core privacy principles at risk

      @MBorsick Maybe you missed the line when I said:

      "To be clear: this isn?t RIM?s fault. Just as people blame cyber-bullying on technology, it is the people behind the screens that are to blame."
      zwhittaker
      • Just a little "nit" to "pick"...

        I know what you mean, but perhaps it would be clearer if you changed that statement to say:

        "it is the people <b>in front of</b> the screens that are to blame.

        People don't get "behind" their screens to view or enter anything. If there is anybody "behind" the screens, it is the content providers who are "behind the scenes".
        adornoe