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BlackBerry takes privacy stand

News, 01 December 2015

ISLAMABAD: BlackBerry, the mobile phone brand, is pulling out of Pakistan, citing privacy concerns, at a time when consumers there are increasingly using these devices as part of their everyday lives.

Earlier this year the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority had given notice that, from the beginning of December, BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) servers would no longer be allowed to operate in the country "for security reasons". That date has now been put back to the end of the year.

In a blog post, chief operating officer Marty Beard explained 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 message.

"BlackBerry will not comply with that sort of directive," he said. "We do not support 'back doors' granting open access to our customers' information and have never done this anywhere in the world."

He added that the company was "more than happy to assist law enforcement agencies in investigations of criminal activity", but would not permit "wholesale access" to its servers.

Accordingly, the decision had been taken to cease operations in Pakistan, even though services other than BES, including BlackBerry Messenger and BlackBerry Internet Services, were unaffected.

Dawn, a Pakistani newspaper, reported that there are only between 4,000 and 5,000 BES customers in the country, as many erstwhile BlackBerry subscribers have switched to other smartphone brands, but these users include large business enterprises and foreign missions.

Ordinary consumers appear to have fewer concerns about privacy, as a separate Dawn article noted "the common sight of ordinary citizens liberally using mobile phones for social connectivity, accessing information and e-commerce".

And it quoted a senior IT ministry official who outlined a government push to create a secure and efficient online payment system to boost e-commerce across the nation.

"The ball is currently in the court of the commerce ministry for developing an e-commerce framework. The IT ministry and the State Bank are ready to assist them with whatever they might need," the official said.

At least seven in ten Pakistanis – or 134.4m consumers – use a mobile phone every day, and an increasing proportion of these are turning to 4G connections, with the four months to September seeing a 33% rise to 18m in total.

Data sourced from BlackBerry, Dawn; additional content by Warc staff