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BlackBerry Exits Pakistan Over Backdoor Request

BlackBerry announced on Monday that it will cease offering its services in Pakistan on Dec. 30, after refusing the government’s demand for a backdoor into its encrypted communication service.

BlackBerry announced on Monday that it will cease offering its services in Pakistan on Dec. 30, after refusing the government’s demand for a backdoor into its encrypted communication service.

The Canadian smartphone maker revealed that the Pakistani government was looking for means to monitor all BlackBerry Enterprise Service traffic in the country. However, as BlackBerry refused to comply with this demand, the government decided to prohibit BlackBerry’s BES servers from operating in Pakistan starting in December.

In July, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority notified mobile phone operators in the country of this decision, citing security reasons. Initially ordered to exit the country by November 30, BlackBerry was allowed to continue operations for another month, making the shutdown effective on Dec. 30.

The backdoor that the Pakistani government wanted to be included in BES would have allowed it to keep an eye on all BES e-mails and BES BBM messages, Marty Beard, Chief Operating Officer at BlackBerry, explains in a blog post. He also notes that Pakistan was requesting unfettered access to all of BES customers’ information, and that the demand was not a question of public safety.

Beard also reiterated that BlackBerry remains committed to protecting users’ privacy and that the company is not willing to make any sort of compromise. He notes that the smartphone designer hasn’t granted open access to its customers’ information anywhere in the world, but says the company will always assist law enforcement agencies in investigations of criminal activity.

“The privacy of our customers is paramount to BlackBerry, and we will not compromise that principle,” Beard said. He added that the company remains focused on protecting corporate, government and military communications throughout the world, including South Asia and the Middle East.

On December 30, BlackBerry will not shutdown only its BES services in Pakistan, but it will exit the market altogether. The government’s request was aimed only at the BES servers, but Beard says that “Pakistan’s demand for open access to monitor a significant swath of our customers’ communications within its borders left us no choice.”

In July, the phone maker also affirmed its commitment to privacy for all users: “BlackBerry provides the world’s most secure communications platform to government, military and enterprise customers. Protecting that security is paramount to our mission. While we recognize the need to cooperate with lawful government investigative requests of criminal activity, we have never permitted wholesale access to our BES servers.”

Last year, BlackBerry acquired German voice and data encryption and anti-eavesdropping firm Secusmart, in an attempt to boost the security and privacy protection capabilities of its services. Pakistan, on the other hand, is looking for additional surveillance capabilities, and details on its data collection plans started to emerge in July this year, claiming that the country’s government was looking to reach a digital espionage capacity that would rival that of the United States.

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