BlackBerry to exit Pakistan over privacy concerns

The Canadian former giant BlackBerry has ended speculation by announcing on Monday that it will exit the Pakistani market before the end of 2015.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Rather than hand over the unfettered private information of its enterprise customers, BlackBerry has decided to exit Pakistan altogether.

The company's chief operating officer Marty Beard confirmed in a blog post on Monday that the Pakistani government has issued a shutdown order to BlackBerry with a deadline of December 30, 2015.

"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," Beard said. "That is a compromise we are not willing to make."

Beard said BlackBerry was told it would no longer be allowed to operate in the country "for security reasons".

"The truth is that the Pakistani government wanted the ability to monitor all BlackBerry BES traffic in the country, including every BES email and BES BBM message," Beard said. "But BlackBerry will not comply with that sort of directive."

It surfaced in July that the Pakistani Telecommunications Authority had announced BlackBerry's BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) servers were no longer able to operate in the country, with a leaked document [PDF] showing minutes from a meeting that called on three of the largest major phone providers in Pakistan to shut down the encrypted messaging service.

"Pakistan's demand was not a question of public safety; we are more than happy to assist law enforcement agencies in investigations of criminal activity. Rather, Pakistan was essentially demanding unfettered access to all of our BES customers' information," Beard said.

"Although the Pakistani government's directive was aimed only at our BES servers, we have decided to exit the market altogether, because Pakistan's demand for open access to monitor a significant swath of our customers' communications within its borders left us no choice but to exit the country entirely."

In Blackberry's home country, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in June last year that police must have the authorisation of a judge to obtain customer data linked to online activities.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Bob Paulson said last week however that police need warrantless access to such information to keep pace with child predators and other online criminals, CBC News reported.

According to CBC, Paulson said that whilst the internet is a marvellous boon to communication, education, and commerce, it is also a place where a vast array of crime takes place, including rampant sexual abuse of youngsters.

"[Children are] being hurt at a pace and a frequency that is alarming," Paulson is reported to have said. "Technology is fuelling that. So now these people can encrypt their communications and they can exploit children for sexual purposes and it's a little harder to get at them from a police point of view."

Amid concerns over its morality, the Australian government last week released a second exposure draft [PDF] of the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment Bill that would see telcos in the country required to increase their network protection and allow the intervention of government agencies as a matter of national security.

"The security and resilience of telecommunications infrastructure is increasingly critical to the social and economic well-being of the nation," Attorney-General George Brandis and Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield said in a joint statement.

The statement said the proposed changes would introduce a framework to better manage national security risks of unauthorised interference and access to telecommunications networks.

The legislation would see carriers and carriage service providers forced to provide information about their networks and services to the Attorney-General's Department, or face injunctions, enforceable undertakings, and civil penalties such as fines.

"Government and business are increasingly storing and communicating large amounts of information on and across telecommunications networks and facilities," the explanatory memorandum [PDF] says.

"Telecommunications networks and facilities also by their nature hold information of a sensitive nature, which includes information about the network itself; for example, lawful interception systems, customer billing, and management systems, which, if unlawfully accessed, can reveal sensitive law-enforcement operations, or the location of people such as politicians or protected persons.

"This information presents a rich intelligence target for those who wish to harm Australian interests."

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