Skip to main content

BlackBerry leaves Pakistan following government backdoor demands

BlackBerry leaves Pakistan following government backdoor demands

Share this story

BlackBerry is pulling out of Pakistan entirely next year, saying it won't sell devices or services there because the government has demanded access to BlackBerry Enterprise Service emails and BBM chats. Pakistan issued a shutdown order on BlackBerry services in July of this year, telling the country’s mobile phone operators the company would no longer be allowed to operate in the country after Nov. 30 due to "security reasons." While BlackBerry could have negotiated a deal to keep its reported 5,000 Pakistani enterprise users, it instead chose to leave the country entirely. Beyond its BES services, general consumers using its BIS products will lose access as well.

In a blog post announcing its decision, COO Marty Beard said that while the company would prefer not to leave the market, "remaining in Pakistan would have meant forfeiting our commitment to protect our users’ privacy" and that was "a compromise we are not willing to make." Although it might look like BlackBerry has scored a win for privacy and for its reputation as a company that protects users' privacy above all else, the actual story is a little more complicated. With up to 5,000 BES users in the country, the move won't exactly add up to a major revenue loss. Plus, the company has previously worked out deals in other countries to meet government requests to monitor users’ communications.

With up to 5,000 BES users in the country, the move won't exactly add up to a major revenue loss

In 2013, for instance, India gained real time access to email communications, BBM chats, and the web browsing habits of BIS users inside the country. BlackBerry claims authorities were not given access to the email records of BES users; however, they could request information on which businesses used the platform. The company has also reportedly made agreements facilitating access to consumers’ data with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Russia. The U.S. government doesn't have an explicitly outlined deal with the company, but BlackBerry's privacy policy does note that when legally obligated, it will turn over personal information or defer to telecoms to provide the requested data. The company hasn't issued any transparency reports about what kind of requests it's received for users' data.

In Pakistan, BlackBerry initially planned to end operations at the end of November but had its deadline extended to December 30th. BlackBerry did clarify that it’s "more than happy" to assist law enforcement in criminal investigations, but Pakistan’s request for a general backdoor to customers’ information apparently went too far.

Verge Video review: The BlackBerry Priv brings back the physical keyboard