Press reports indicate that BlackBerry maker RIM seems to be under increasing pressure to open up its encrypted communications from customers to governments, who are increasingly concerned about security. It seems that officials are worried that criminals — and terrorists too — are using the encryption to their advantage since there is no way to monitor transmissions.
The United Arab Emirates were the first to ban the devices, saying it would shut down service in October. The ban would not extend to other devices, since their digital communications pass over the open Internet. Saudi Arabia was next, who is threatening to shut off service this Friday.
Since then the list of countries with similar concerns has grown to include Kuwait, India, Indonesia, and today extended to Lebanon. While none of the countries are yet moving to ban the BlackBerry, all are asking RIM to open up.
Some have regional concerns — such as displeasure at the fact that all BlackBerry traffic is routed back to its main datacenter in Canada — but it comes back to security. The spat also puts RIM in a bad position: does it acquiesce to government demands in the name of staying in business in these countries, or stand firm on keeping its customers communications secret?
For now, the company is fighting back. It’s co-CEO Mike Lazaridis slammed countries that were pressuring it, claiming everything on the Internet was encrypted. “If they can’t deal with the Internet, they should shut it off.”
Certainly sounds to me like they have no intention of complying. While I tend to agree that RIM shouldn’t be an open book for anyone, these governments have a point. All of these countries have a similar problem, and that’s either extremist or terrorist activity. If these folks know that they’ll be protected by RIM’s security measures, where do you think they will communicate?
Now, ground rules would need to be set of course. But sooner or later its going to come to a point where the pressure is going to be too great for RIM to ignore it. Might as well open up now, under your own terms.