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BlackBerry Exits Pakistan

by Newsweek Pakistan
Paul J. Richards—AFP

Paul J. Richards—AFP

Company chief says Islamabad’s request for unfettered access to BES was driving force behind decision to abandon market.

BlackBerry on Monday announced that it would end its services in Pakistan within a month, allegedly due to the government demanding it allow the state to monitor its services.

In a blog post, BlackBerry COO Marty Bear wrote: “After Nov. 30, BlackBerry will no longer operate in Pakistan.” According to the post, Islamabad had wanted access to all BlackBerry Enterprise Service traffic in the country, “including every BES e-mail and BES BBM message.”

In a subsequent update, however, BlackBerry said it would delay the exit until the end of December. In an addendum on its website it noted: “Since this post, the Government of Pakistan has notified BlackBerry that it has extended its shutdown order from Nov. 30 to Dec. 30. BlackBerry will delay its exit from the Pakistan market until then.”

In July, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) announced it would shutter BES by Dec. 1 for “security reasons.” At the time, it had claimed BIS [BlackBerry Internet Service] would continue, but BlackBerry’s statement clarifies the organization will no longer be providing any services to the country. “Although the Pakistani government’s directive was aimed only at our BES servers, we have decided to exit the market altogether, because Pakistan’s demand for open access to monitor a significant swath of our customers’ communications within its borders left us no choice but to exit the country entirely,” writes Bear.

BlackBerry has in the past cooperated with information requests from various countries, including neighboring India, but it has restricted unfettered access to its BIS facility. In its deal with New Delhi, the company notifies authorities about which companies are using BES, but does not allow them to intercept data. Islamabad, however, wanted unfettered access to both BIS and BES, which the company would not comply with, writes Bear. “As we have said many times, we do not support ‘back doors’ granting open access to our customers’ information and have never done this anywhere in the world,” he wrote.

“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,” writes Bear.

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