BlackBerry CEO addresses story that Canadian police have its global encryption key

John Chen Interview
Last week, BlackBerry came under fire after a report found the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to have had access to the company’s global encryption key since 2010. In response, CEO John Chen sought to redirect the focus of the story to how BlackBerry’s assistance provided to the Canadian police brought down two criminal organizations.

The joint investigative report, by Motherboard and Vice, gave a glimpse of what transpired behind courtroom doors during a case called Project Clemenza, which revolved around a 2011 gangland murder. It revealed that BlackBerry decrypted about “one million PIN-to-PIN” messages in connection with the investigation, thanks to a global encryption key. It is unclear who provided the key.

In a blog post titled “Lawful Access, Corporate Citizenship, and Doing What’s Right,” Chen writes BlackBerry has always chosen to do the right thing for “the citizenry,” within legal and ethical boundaries.

“We have long been clear in our stance that tech companies as good corporate citizens should comply with reasonable lawful access requests,” Chen said. “I have stated before that we are indeed in a dark place when companies put their reputations above the greater good.”

“We have been able to find this balance even as governments have pressured us to change our ethical grounds.”

Chen says the company stood by its lawful access principles for the case, and said that BlackBerry’s Enterprise Server (BES) was never involved in the investigation. In fact, Motherboard’s report says the global encryption key unlocks all messages sent between consumer phones that uses PIN-to-PIN messages, but BES allows companies to have their own encryption key, and BlackBerry can’t access that.

“The defense in the case surmised that the RCMP must have used the ‘correct global encryption key,’ since any attempt to apply a key other than BlackBerry’s own global encryption key would have resulted in a garbled mess,” according to Motherboard.

Regardless, Chen mentions BES, and how it remains the “gold standard in government and enterprise-grade security.”

“Our BES continues to be impenetrable — also without the ability for backdoor access — and is the most secure mobile platform for managing all mobile devices,” he writes.

The news of BlackBerry’s aid in the 2010 Canadian investigation comes at a time when Apple is still fighting the FBI’s requests for the Cupertino company to create a backdoor into the iPhone. Apple believes doing so would threaten the security and privacy of all of the company’s consumers, and would also cause it to lose public trust.

When the defense team on the case asked for more information about how the prosecutors got access to the key, the prosecution reiterated that BlackBerry’s cooperation should remain private, as any revelations could have a negative commercial impact on the company, and could compromise the police’s relationship with BlackBerry.

But the company isn’t offering access to just any government that requests it — Chen highlighted how Blackberry nearly exited the Pakistani market after the government requested access into BES email and messaging content. The company decided to stay in the country after Pakistan dropped its request thanks to “productive discussions.”

“We have been able to find this balance even as governments have pressured us to change our ethical grounds,” Chen said. “Despite these pressures, our position has been unwavering and our actions are proof we commit to these principles.”

There’s still no official word or comment about the global encryption key, and who provided it to the Canadian police.

Emerging Tech

How long is a day on Saturn? Scientists finally have an answer

The length of Saturn's day has always been a challenge to calculate because of the planet's non-solid surface and magnetic field. But now scientists have tracked vibrations in the rings to pin down a final answer.

Apple banned from distributing some iPhone models in Germany

Apple is following the FTC's lead and has sued Qualcomm for a massive $1 billion in the U.S., $145 million in China, and also in the U.K., claiming the company charged onerous royalties for its patented tech.

Huawei in for a rough year as feds investigate alleged trade secrets theft

Huawei is also facing issues in the U.S., but it doesn't seem like that will end any time soon. According to a new report, the company is facing a federal investigation in the U.S. for allegedly stealing trade secrets.

Pinning websites to your taskbar is as easy as following these quick steps

Would you like to know how to pin a website to the taskbar in Windows 10 in order to use browser links like apps? Whichever browser you're using, it's easier than you might think. Here's how to get it done.

Google is buying mysterious smartwatch tech from The Fossil Group for $40 million

Google is about to step up its smartwatch game. The company has agreed to buy an unnamed smartwatch technology from The Fossil Group for a hefty $40 million. Considering the acquisition, it's clear Google is serious about smartwatches.

Here’s how to take a screenshot on an iPad, step by step

The ability to capture screenshots may not be the iPad's most glamorous feature, but it's one of its most useful. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to take a screenshot on an iPad, whether it's an iPad Pro from 2018 or an older iPad model.

5G phones make a lot of promises. Here’s what to really expect

There has been a lot of marketing copy expounding the potential benefits of 5G networks, but a lot less on the practical implications of 5G smartphones. There's a reason for that.
Home Theater

Here are some common AirPods problems, and how to fix them

Apple’s AirPods are among the best fully wireless earbuds we’ve seen, but they’re not perfect. If you’re having trouble, take a look at our guide to the most common problems and what you can do to fix them.
Social Media

Here’s how to save someone’s Instagram Story to your phone

Curious about how to save someone's Instagram Story to your phone? Lucky for you, it can be done -- but it does take a few extra steps. Here's what you need to know to save Instagram Stories on both iOS and Android.

Lack of regulation means wearables aren’t held accountable for health claims

As fitness trackers become more like health monitors, some physicians are concerned they can lead to over-diagnosis of non-existent problems. It’s already happening with wearable baby monitors.

Here’s how to download podcasts and listen to them on Android or iOS

Podcasts have become a cultural staple. Here's how to download podcasts and listen to them on your Android or iOS device, and which apps to use if you're looking to get the most out of the format.

Windows 10 Mobile support ending: Switch to iOS or Android, Microsoft says

A Microsoft support page detailed the company's plans to end support for Windows 10 Mobile in less than a year. Users with devices powered by the platform are suggested to switch to iOS or Android devices.

How to use iOS 12’s Passwords and Accounts tool to autofill passwords

Keeping track of all your passwords and accounts can be a real chore. If you use an iPhone with iOS 12, then you don't have to. Here's how to use iOS 12's own password manager to autofill passwords.

What is fixed wireless 5G? Here’s everything you need to know

Here's fixed wireless 5G explained! Learn what you need to know about this effective new wireless technology, when it's available, how much it costs, and more. If you're thinking about 5G, this guide can help!