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BlackBerry CEO Criticises Apple, Others For Not Working With Governments

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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BlackBerry chief John Chen says technology and governments should work together, claiming privacy would not be the victim of cooperation

BlackBerry CEO John Chen has slammed other technology firms, specifically Apple, for refusing to work with governments on “lawful access requests” and says the right to privacy should not be extended to criminals.

Chen said the debate between pro-privacy advocates and governments had become “acrimonious and polarising” in recent times, especially following reports terrorists are using messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram to carry out their activities.

He cited a specific example involving Apple where it told a judge it was “impossible” to unlock an iPhone needed for evidence in a criminal case, citing potential reputational damage.

Common ground

BlackBerry John ChenApple CEO Tim Cook has previously expresses his disdain for government attempts to weaken encryption and rivals such as Google and Facebook who mine user data for monetisation.

Chen said privacy is essential to BlackBerry’s business, but governments and technology should cooperate, adding that his firm was in a “unique position” to bring the sides together because of its big business and public sector customers.

“We are indeed in a dark place when companies put their reputations above the greater good,” he said. “We reject the notion that tech companies should refuse reasonable, lawful access requests. Just as individual citizens bear responsibility to help thwart crime when they can safely do so, so do corporations have a responsibility to do what they can, within legal and ethical boundaries, to help law enforcement in its mission to protect us.

BlackBerry encryption

“However, it is also true that corporations must reject attempts by federal agencies to overstep. BlackBerry has refused to place backdoors in its devices and software. We have never allowed government access to our servers and never will. We have made decisions to exit national markets when the jurisdictional authorities demand access that would abuse the privacy of law-abiding citizens.”

BlackBerry COO Marty Beard has reportedly voiced support for a government backdoor in the past, but Chen mocked calls from some leaders, including UK Prime Minister David Cameron, for a ban on encryption. Chen said that even if this was technically possible, it would be ineffective. Some have noted however that BlackBerry has agreed deals with the Indian and Saudi Arabian governments in the past.

“We also reject any notion of banning or disabling encryption,” Chen continued. “The hacking epidemic over the past couple years shows that we need more, not fewer, security controls for our sensitive information. Frankly, it is surprising and unnerving that some national political leaders think that an encryption ban could even work on a technical basis.”

“If encryption services were banned, criminals would simply write their own encryption apps, resulting in a world where they have better encryption tools than the citizen populace, and our personal privacy would be the only casualty of this debate.”

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