BlackBerry has confirmed that it is exiting Pakistan entirely in response to the national government’s continued demand to monitor user data on the Canadian company’s service.
Back in July, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) said it would shutter BlackBerry Enterprise Services (known as BES) by December 1 for “security reasons.” The issue was thought to center around BlackBerry’s encryption of emails, BBM messages and other data from its users which prevented authorities from gaining the access to information that they deemed necessary for national security.
BlackBerry kept silent at the time, but now the phone maker, which recently launched its first Android handset, has confirmed it will leave the country — with a population of 180 million people — after November 30 after it refused to grant Pakistani authorities access to its systems.
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 message. 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.
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. The privacy of our customers is paramount to BlackBerry, and we will not compromise that principle.
Interestingly, while the PTA was focused only on gaining access to BES, BlackBerry said it has decided to withdraw its consumer business (BIS: BlackBerry’s Internet Services) from the country too.
“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 added.
While it isn’t clear exactly how many customers — business and consumer — BlackBerry has in Pakistan, the phone-maker has seen its consumer market share dwindle to an all-time low, even in emerging markets where it once ruled, as affordable Android devices with more apps and options have risen. For that reason, its presence within the enterprise space is particularly important — although even that pie is being eaten at by Apple and Android phone makers taking advantage of ‘bring your own device’ policies that enable employees to have consumer devices as work phones.
Pakistan isn’t likely to be a major revenue source for the company, and, on the positive side, this move shows it is making a stand for user data and security, two areas where it has long believed that it can stand apart from the competition — particularly in the enterprise space. You be sure that BlackBerry will be keen to make that point to its existing and prospective customers.
Long term watchers of BlackBerry (which was formerly known as RIM), will be aware that the company wasn’t always so principled on security. After a long back and forth in India, it gave authorities access to data from BBM and BIS in 2013, while it was thought to have made concessions to do business in Russia and China in 2007 and 2008 respectively. Those were pre-Snowden-NSA times, and heightened awareness of monitoring could be a swaying factor, too.