Pakistan and BlackBerry have agreed to delay the shutdown of BlackBerry’s Enterprise Server (BES) by one month. This comes months after Pakistan initially ordered the shutdown of the company’s encrypted messaging services for businesses. Though the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) had indicated that after November 30, BlackBerry could no longer offer BES services to customers, the PTA has now extended the shutdown deadline to December 30.
BES are the only customers who receive fully encrypted communications from BlackBerry. Citizen Lab Postdoctoral Fellow Christopher Parsons told the Globe and Mail that consumer-level, regular telecom consumer Blackberry Messenger (BBM) features encryption, but that BlackBerry holds the keys for this. In contrast, Apple’s iMessage features end to end encryption that cannot be accessed even if a lawful request was made.
Blackberry chief operating officer Marty Beard wrote in a blog post that Pakistan was demanding access to BES server communications, and affirmed that BlackBerry would not comply with this sort of directive. He added that “we do not support ‘backdoors’ granting open access to our customers’ information and have never done this anywhere in the world.” Beard said that the company takes a balanced approach that recognizes lawful government investigative requests, but have never permitted wholesale access to our BES servers. Reports from November indicated that Mr. Beard told attendees at IT conference FedTalks that BlackBerry’s balanced approach stood in contrast to other companies who were “all about encryption all the way.”
Christopher Parsons said that BlackBerry “chided Apple and Google for setting up strong encyrption.” He added, “My understanding is they were willing to work with Pakistan on a case-by-case instance, just not a universal back door.”
In another interview with NewsMax, Christopher Parsons said that there was a policy message being shared by Pakistan, which may have broader implications. “This demonstrates, at a policy level, that a very large government is willing to ban communications if they can’t gain access to it.” “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.'”