BlackBerry Hints It Is Open To Government Encryption Backdoor

BlackBerry has suggested it is willing to build a mechanism into its products that would allow governments and law enforcement agencies to access the encrypted communications of users so long as such interception was lawful.

The company’s chief operating officer Marty Beard reportedly told the FedTalks government IT summit that BlackBerry believes in a “balanced” approach to encryption that prioritises cooperation with law enforcement, whereas its rivals believe in “encryption all the way”.

BlackBerry backdoor

Many governments around the world want to be able to access such information, claiming terrorists and other criminals are using encrypted messaging tools to plan attacks and other activities.

However the introduction of a ‘backdoor’ could undermine the trust of enterprise customers who want to protect their data and other users, such as journalists and activists, who want to keep their conversations private.

Prime Minister David Cameron is among those who want an encryption backdoor, with the recent terrorist attacks in Paris are likely to see such calls intensify. Earlier this week the Manhattan District Attorney also demanded weaker smartphone encryption.

Security expert Graham Cluley says Beard’s reported comments highlight a change in ideology for BlackBerry, although he does note the company has agreed deals with the Indian and Saudi Arabian governments in the past.

He adds that there are many legitimate reasons for wanting to use encrypted communications and any introduction of a backdoor could cause some businesses to move away from BlackBerry services.

“For a long time, bad people have communicated privately and secretly by using encryption. But they’re not alone,” he said in a blog post. “Encryption is also used by people who are persecuted, freedom fighters, journalists and activists. And encrypted communications by regular members of the public and multinational companies who don’t want their private conversations and files to fall into the hands of unauthorised parties.

“If you’re responsible for security inside your company you want to feel confident that nobody is spying upon your firm’s activity, that there is no opportunity for commercial rivals or hackers to find out your company’s plans or access your customers’ records.”

UPDATE: BlackBerry has told TechWeekEurope it does not support the concept of encryption backdoors but says it is necessary to work with law enforcement agencies.

“Encryption is very important to protect governments, business and individuals from hacking.  That’s why so many world leaders and CEOs rely on BlackBerry to protect their data,” said a spokesperson. “At the same time, no one wants to see terrorists and criminals taking advantage of encryption to evade detection. That’s why we have always strongly supported law enforcement around the world when they need our help.  While we do not support so-called “back-doors,” we and every other tech company bears a responsibility to do all we can to help governments protect their citizens.”

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Steve McCaskill

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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