BlackBerry to stay in Pakistan after government backs down on access and content demands

The Canadian phone maker has reneged on its decision to exit the Pakistani market following talks with the country's government on the privacy of its customers.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

BlackBerry confirmed it will remain operational in Pakistan, despite receiving a shutdown order last year from the country's government.

The Canadian phone maker was originally slated to exit the Pakistani market on December 30, 2015, with the company's chief operating officer Marty Beard affirming last month that BlackBerry would rather leave the country than hand over unfettered private information of its enterprise customers.

In a blog post published a day after the company was due to exit, Beard said that the decision to remain in the country followed "productive discussions" with the Government of Pakistan.

"We are grateful to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and the Pakistani government for accepting BlackBerry's position that we cannot provide the content of our customers' BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) traffic, nor will we provide access to our BES servers," Beard said.

"We look forward to serving the Pakistani market for years to come, including introducing new products and services, and thank our valued customers in Pakistan for their patience and loyalty."

Last month, Beard said that 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 at the time. "But BlackBerry will not comply with that sort of directive."

The Pakistani government's directive was only for BlackBerry's BES servers, and it was the phone maker's decision to leave the market altogether.

"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."

It surfaced in July last year that the Pakistani Telecommunications Authority had announced BlackBerry's 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.

In a blog post last month, BlackBerry CEO John Chen said that tech companies have a responsibility to do what they can -- within legal and ethical boundaries -- to help law enforcement in its mission to protect the public.

The CEO said however, that corporations must reject attempts by federal agencies to overstep, citing BlackBerry's initial decision to exit Pakistan, saying the phone maker has refused to place backdoors in its devices and software and has never and will never allow government access to its servers.

"One of the world's most powerful tech companies recently refused a lawful access request in an investigation of a known drug dealer because doing so would 'substantially tarnish the brand' of the company," Chen said. "We are indeed in a dark place when companies put their reputations above the greater good."

"At BlackBerry, we understand, arguably more than any other large tech company, the importance of our privacy commitment to product success and brand value: privacy and security form the crux of everything we do," he said. "However, our privacy commitment does not extend to criminals."

Apple and Google have both taken steps to lock out law enforcement and intelligence agencies from accessing data from its devices by giving the user control over encryption keys. Data from newer iPhones and iPads and Android devices cannot have data taken by government authorities unless the user hands over access codes.

The iPhone maker has previously said it cannot unlock devices with iOS 8 and later installed, as it even Apple is prevented from being able to tap into the devices, and therefore cannot be secretly forced by the governments to turn over data.

In its fiscal third quarter results, BlackBerry reported a net loss of $89 million on revenue of $557 million. Despite the result, Chen said he was "pleased" with the company's turnaround effort.

"BlackBerry has a solid financial foundation, and we are executing well. To sustain our current direction, we are stepping up investments to drive continued software growth and the additional Priv launches," he said. "I anticipate this will result in sequential revenue growth in our software, hardware, and messaging businesses in [the fourth quarter]."

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