BlackBerry is getting ready to completely exit Pakistan on Dec. 30, announced chief operating officer Marty Beard in a blog post today. Originally, the company was expecting to cease operations in the country on Nov. 30.
Explaining the decision, Beard said “remaining in Pakistan would have meant forfeiting our commitment to protect our users’ privacy. That is a compromise we are not willing to make.”
Data privacy has jumped to the forefront of CIO concerns in recent years, particularly after Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), leaked classified information on the U.S. government’s cyber-spying capabilities in 2013. Since then, Internet companies and cloud providers have been scrambling to secure their systems and software.
BlackBerry’s stance on “back doors” to its enterprise messaging platforms and other mechanisms that enable surreptitious access to customer data means the company is forced to pull out of Pakistan, said Beard.
Citing security concerns, mobile phone carriers in the region were notified by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority in July that BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) servers could no longer operate in the country starting in December, explained Beard. Instead, the reason BES Server is being outlawed is that the Pakistan government wants to snoop on its customers, he claimed.
“The truth is that the Pakistani government wanted the ability to monitor all BlackBerry Enterprise Service traffic in the country, including every BES e-mail and BES BBM [BlackBerry Messenger] message,” Beard stated. “But BlackBerry will not comply with that sort of directive. 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.”
Public safety issues also fail to hold water for Beard. “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,” he said.
Instead of shuttering its BES business in the country, BlackBerry is completely calling it quits. After ceding the smartphone crown to Google Android and Apple, BlackBerry has been focused on its secure enterprise messaging and mobile device management software platforms. Its embattled hardware unit recently released its first Android-powered device, the privacy-focused Priv smartphone.
“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,” Beard said.