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RIM Co-CEO Lazaridis Rips into Countries Banning BlackBerry

In an interview published in the Wall Street Journal, (subscription required), the never-shy RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis had some choice remarks for countries considering banning BlackBerry services over security and encryption issues. In a nutshell: “If they can’t deal with the Internet, they should shut it off.”

The interview comes as RIM’s BlackBerry service has run afoul of state regulators in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, both of which are banning specific BlackBerry services because government authorities can’t peer into messages and other communications—RIM maintains data in offshore data centers in the UK and North America, and its enterprise product uses encryption technology that means even the stored data is secure without the user’s own private key. Other countries mulling a ban on BlackBerry services now include India, Lebanon, and Indonesia.

Lazaridis readily acknowledged RIM will have to work with governments to make sure its services can be offered in their countries, and also conceded RIM does have to cooperate with authorities when presented with a lawful order to turn over communications. In those cases, Lazaridis maintains RIM should be able to turn over the encrypted data. Further, in a remark that implies foreign regulator just aren’t smart enough to understand what’s going on, Lazaridis says RIM’s job now is to educate governments about the technology. “We are going to continue to work with them to make sure they understand the reality of the Internet,” Lazaridis told the Wall Street Journal. “A lot of these people don’t have Ph.Ds, and they don’t have a degree in computer science.”

Lazaridis doesn’t have a Ph.D. or a degree in computer science himself. He dropped out of the University of Waterloo to start the company that would become RIM. However, a decade ago he did receive an honorary doctorate from the university, and eventually became one of its chancellors.

Lazaridis is correct that significant portions of routine Internet traffic are encrypted—particularly financial, medical, governmental, and commerce transactions as well as everyday communications—and individual mobile operators or ISPs in a particular country aren’t going to be able to turn over decrypted versions of those communications in response to a lawful court or governmental order.

“We have dealt with this before,” Mr. Lazaridis said. “And it will get resolved if there is a chance for rational discussion.”

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