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article imageBlackBerry faces battle with Pakistan over privacy of user data

By Ken Hanly     Nov 30, 2015 in Business
Islamabad - The Canadian company BlackBerry Ltd., formerly known as Research in Motion, has decided to delay closing down operations in Pakistan until at least December 30, as it continues negotiations with the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority(PTA).
The Pakistan government is demanding access to users' private data. BlackBerry is in a difficult situation since one of its competitive strengths is its strong encryption assuring users of the privacy of their data. BlackBerry has been losing market share and money for some time now although losses have slowed considerably lately compared to 2013 and 2014. BlackBerry began as Research in Motion back in 1984. It still has 46 million subscribers.
Originally, PTA had demanded in July that BlackBerry give access to BlackBerry Enterprise Services, which encrypts data or be shut down by Nov. 30. This time line has now been extended to December 30. However, CNET reports that BlackBerry will shut down operations in Pakistan at year's end because demands from the country's Telecommunications Authority would result in a massive invasion of user privacy:BlackBerry refuses to agree to the Pakistani government's order to monitor BlackBerry Enterprise Services (BES), including encrypted emails and BBM messages sent and received in the country. It is therefore withdrawing on December 30, Chief Operating Officer Marty Beard said in a blog post Monday. The Canadian company said it enforces a blanket ban on allowing so-called "backdoor" access to customer information anywhere in the world. Beard claimed the Pakistani demand had nothing to do with public safety and his company was quite willing to cooperate with law enforcement agencies in investigation of criminal activity. He claimed Pakistan was demanding unfettered access to all BES customers' information. There is a debate over encrypted communications in many countries opposing encryption in the name of national security. Not only BlackBerry will face the issue with governments as in Pakistan, and also in India, Saudi Arabia and UAE, but so will the giants in the industry such as Google, Apple, and Facebook and in huge markets such as the United States and the UK..
Rather than having decided to shut down, it seems that BlackBerry is still trying to work out a solution as it was able to do in India. The chair of PTA Syed Shah said that the two sides were still discussing the level of access and also claimed that the deadline could be extended with BlackBerry continuing to operate in Pakistan meanwhile. While the government claims the access is necessary for security reasons, analysts say the government is increasing electronic surveillance that targets, opposition politicians, journalists, and activists.
Three years ago in August of 2012, BlackBerry settled a similar showdown with the Indian government that lasted for four years when the Indian government demanded the encryption keys for BSE secure corporate email and messenger services. At that time, BlackBerry was Research in Motion or RIM: RIM recently demonstrated a solution developed by a firm called Verint that can intercept messages and emails exchanged between BlackBerry handsets, and make these encrypted communications available in a readable format to Indian security agencies, according to an exchange of communications between the Canadian company and the Indian government. As the appended video shows, BlackBerry's problems with governments and encryption go back at least five years when RIM faced the same problems about encryption in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
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