Pakistan May Ban BlackBerry Ltd Services

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BlackBerry CEO John Chen has been emphasizing that the company’s strong-suit is security. Apparently it is so strong that Pakistani officials are unhappy with it. ZDNET published a leaked memo from the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) on Friday, but things aren’t over for BlackBerry in Pakistan yet.

BlackBerry told to work with Pakistan authorities

The memo was dated July 22 and, according to ZDNET, suggested that the PTA had plans to shut down BlackBerry Enterprises Services in the country due to national security issues. Reuters corroborated the story with its own source at the PTA. However, now the PTA has provided further clarification on the leaked memo, saying that it hasn’t fully decided to shut down BES in Pakistan just yet. They’re giving BlackBerry one more chance to comply with their demands.

According to The Nation, officials with the PTA requested that mobile carriers Telenor, Mobilink and Ufone give BlackBerry a 90-day notice that they will shut down BES if the company does not give them access to the data collected. The PTA also reportedly asked the mobile carriers to turn in compliance reports on BlackBerry at the end of the month

Pakistani authorities reportedly told The Nation that they have been attempting to get BlackBerry to provide them with access to BES for the “last many years.” They also said that if the company doesn’t comply, then they will shut down access to BES in Pakstan.

The question now is whether BlackBerry will comply with the order or if it will shut down BES in the country by Nov. 30.

BlackBerry in a precarious position

On the surface, this appears to put BlackBerry in a difficult position. If the company does not agree to work with the authorities by providing them access to BES, then it will lose what is a key market for it, as there are about 4,000 to 5,000 BlackBerry users there. That may not sound like a lot, but for BlackBerry, it is meaningful. However, if it does provide them with access, then the company will lose face with customers who choose its services precisely because of the strong security.

It could also open the floodgates for the other world’s governments to demand full access to BES and potentially destroy its reputation as one of the most secure mobile services companies in the world (if not the topmost secure provider).

BlackBerry services face restrictions

The PTA states that BlackBerry has already been providing other governments with access to BES. They said even officials in neighboring India can access it. The reason they want to have access to BES is to monitor it for terrorist or anti-state activities. BlackBerry denies the PTA’s claims that it offers full access to BES to governments. The company issued the following emailed statement to ValueWalk:

“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 provided wholesale access to our BES Servers.”

The company also directed us to a post on its website outlining how it balances corporate responsibility with governments’ lawful access to data.

The Guardian notes that BlackBerry’s services were blocked in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in 2010. Later the governments unblocked BES but tightened their restrictions on it.

U.K.-based watchdog group Privacy International recently issued a report warning that Pakistani officials allegedly abuse the monitoring power they already have. According to that report, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) reportedly uses its monitoring capabilities to spy on journalists, activists, and lawyers, opposition politicians, and Supreme Court judges and target some of them.

As of this writing, shares of BlackBerry were down 0.82% at $7.27 per share on the NASDAQ.

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