BlackBerry Ltd. is closing shop in Pakistan in order to sidestep allowing authorities to monitor its e-mail messages and business enterprise server (BES). Cellphone providers have been notified that as of the end of this month, BlackBerry’s BES servers will no longer be allowed to operate there “for security reasons”. There are 5,000 BES customers in Pakistan.
Blackberry’s chief operating officer Marty Beard says, “The truth is that the Pakistani government wanted the ability to monitor all BES traffic in the country, including every BES e-mail and BES BBM message. But BlackBerry will not comply with that sort of directive.”
Beard says although the authority’s order is only “officially” related to BlackBerry’s BES servers, the company is left with no choice but to leave the Pakistan market altogether.
He says, “As we have said many times, we do not support “backdoors” granting open access to our customers’ information and have never done this anywhere in the world. 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. The privacy of our customers is paramount to BlackBerry, and we will not compromise that principle.”
The issue appears to center around BlackBerry’s encryption of emails, BBM messages and other data from its users which is preventing Pakistani authorities from obtaining information they consider is necessary for national security.
The chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority Chairman S. Ismail Shah says he is still negotiating with Blackberry and “hopefully it’ll be sorted out”. He says Blackberry has been given a month to get back to the Authority with a compromise offer and that deadline could be extended.
Since John Chen took over as Blackberry’s chief executive officer in 2013, he has been attempting to shift the company’s direction and focus on higher profit margin software sales, as its handset sales are low and are having difficulty competing with other phone manufacturers.