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BlackBerry CEO criticizes Apple for refusal to decrypt data for law enforcement

John Chen Interview
Encryption and cybersecurity is a hot debate right now, especially in the tech world. Congress recently slipped the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act into the budget bill, and there’s much talk from Apple, Google, Microsoft, and others about encryption. BlackBerry’s CEO is trying to offer a way forward — after taking a shot at Apple.

“It’s time both sides of this encryption debate accept that pointing fingers is counterproductive.”

CEO John Chen wrote a blog post to describe the current encryption debate, and what BlackBerry is doing to help the discussion move forward. Chen says companies should offer assistance when government officials ask for access to criminals’ encrypted data and slammed Apple for refusing to do so in a recent case.

“In fact, one of the world’s most powerful tech companies recently refused a lawful access request in an investigation of a known drug dealer because doing so would ‘substantially tarnish the brand‘ of the company,” Chen said in the blog post. “We are indeed in a dark place when companies put their reputations above the greater good.”

On devices running iOS 8 or higher, Apple actually can’t pull encrypted data from a locked iPhone, and the company also employs end-to-end encryption technology on its iMessage platform, protecting your messages. CEO Tim Cook said Apple has no desire to hand over any data to anyone, with or without a warrant.

But Chen says that BlackBerry rejects the idea that lawful access requests should be refused by tech companies, comparing it to how individual citizens bear responsibility to help prevent crime when they safely can. He’s also not saying the company is just giving away your data.

“It is also true that corporations must reject attempts by federal agencies to overstep,” Chen said. “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.”

After not-so-subtlety attacking Apple, Chen said companies should stop doing what he just did.

“It’s time both sides of this encryption debate accept that pointing fingers is counterproductive,” he said. “Technology, over the course of human existence, can be both used and abused. We all have a right to privacy as well as public protection.”

Chen is also against banning or disabling encryption, saying that if it was banned, criminals would write their own encryption apps and would have better tools than ordinary citizens, which would be detrimental to personal privacy. He says it’s important and practical to have a policy that supports law enforcement, without giving up user’s privacy.

BlackBerry prides itself on building the most secure smartphone operating system, and it seems as though the company is settling in the middle of the encryption debate, not going so far as Apple, which cannot access iPhone data even if it wanted to. Chen’s not saying anything new in this blog post, though and is simply bashing Apple’s privacy standards, while emphasizing that BlackBerry is good for the consumer and for the government.

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