In a stand for user privacy, BlackBerry will leave the Pakistani market entirely, removing its enterprise and consumer services from the country at the end of December 2015. It follows a battle with the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) after it told networks in the country BlackBerry Enterprise Services (BES) would no longer operate after November 30 for “security reasons.” This deadline was later extended until December 30.
The PTA never revealed what these security reasons were, but according to BlackBerry the Pakistan government wanted backdoor access to all enterprise data, including emails and messages. BlackBerry uses powerful end-to-end encryption technology, making it almost impossible for snooping governments or hackers to intercept or view data. By continuing to do business in Pakistan, it would have to compromise its own security and policies.
“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,” said BlackBerry COO Marty Beard. “The privacy of our customers is paramount to BlackBerry, and we will not compromise that principle.”
Instead of just stopping its business services, the company will also remove its consumer services, showing it’s commitment to maintaining user privacy, and refusal to bend to governmental will if it goes against company policy. It is not clear how many of the 180 million people living in Pakistan own a BlackBerry, or how many companies use its enterprise software to secure communications.
It’s also unclear if the Pakistan government’s deadline extension indicates there are ongoing talks, or if it’s prepared to change its stance on user privacy if it means BlackBerry will continue to operate there. However, it has blocked access to YouTube in the country since 2012 over a row regarding removal of a certain video, showing it’s happy to deny services that don’t comply with its censorship demands.
Privacy and security has always been a major selling point for BlackBerry, for both consumer and business customers, but it has faced growing competition over the past years. Privacy-focused Android devices such as the Blackphone 2 and the GranitePhone have both captured headlines recently, and Apple has made its own refusal to share encrypted data with law enforcement a talking point.