The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), a government agency responsible for the establishment and operation of telecommunications in the country, ordered the shutdown of BlackBerry’s encrypted communication services for businesses.
Citizen Lab Cyber Stewards Network partner Bytes for All, Pakistan received an internal document from a PTA whistleblower, in which three cellular service providers have been “requested’ to shut down BlackBerry encryption services. The notice asks them to provide 90 days notice to customers, in order that the service be allowed to close by November 30, 2015. The document is signed by Amjad Mustafa Malik, director of Wireless Licensing at the PTA. Telecommunication companies such as Mobilink, Ufone, and Telenor are asked to submit a compliance report within 10 days, given “serious concerns by the Security Agency.”
The government is especially keen to shutdown the Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES), which is used by companies to secure employee communications, and allow system administrators to create their own keys for encryption. This means that there is no backdoor for anyone, including the Pakistani security agency, who may want to decrypt communications. The inability for access via backdoor may explain the PTA’s motivations in banning the service outright.
Citizen Lab Postdoctoral Fellow Christopher Parsons weighed in on the issue, telling the Globe and Mail that “this move suggests BlackBerry wasn’t willing to capitulate to those requests for access.” In an interview with VICE Motherboard, Parsons made the broader observation that “this demonstrates, at a policy level, that a very large government is willing to ban communications if they can’t gain access to it.” He added, “Maybe it’s just Pakistan, and nobody else will do it, but it’s certainly a strong change to, ‘If we can’t backdoor it, then we will ban it.'”