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article imagePakistan shutting down encrypted BlackBerry messages for security

By James Walker     Jul 27, 2015 in Technology
Pakistan's communications authority has asked the major phone networks in the country to stop delivering encrypted messages between BlackBerry smartphones within the next 90 days, due to "serious" security concerns.
ZDNet reports it saw a memo from the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority to Pakistani mobile networks Mobilink, Ufone and Telenor Pakistan. Although its authenticity hasn't been verified yet, the memo says the providers must "ensure that all BES [BlackBerry Enterprise Services] connections of their customers must be closed by or before November 30 without fail."
The networks have to say whether they will comply before the end of the month. The memo asks that they now carry out their obligation to warn users of the closure within the next 90 days.
Pakistan is concerned that criminals may be using BlackBerry's encrypted messaging services to communicate with each other without fear of interception. ZDNet notes that although there are thought to be only a few thousand BlackBerry users in the country, consisting mainly of government, business and embassy members, Pakistan is still keen to shut the service down in case it is facilitating the activities of the militant gangs and drug traffickers that are prominent in the country.
A Pakistan Telecommunications Authority official confirmed the news to Reuters in a text message. He said: "PTA has issued directions to local mobile phone operators to close BlackBerry Enterprise Services from Nov. 30 on security reasons."
BlackBerry has faced similar issues with governments concerned about security in the past. India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia have all disrupted communications over its network because of fears that the encryption could be used to hide illegal activities.
The United Kingdom has also been moving to block encrypted messages under the Communications Data Bill, dubbed the "Snooper's Charter", which could ban services including WhatsApp and Snapchat. Encryption gives users extra privacy but can prevent law enforcement agencies from doing their work, potentially inadvertently protecting terrorists in troubled countries like Pakistan.
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