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Pakistan bans BlackBerry services in privacy crackdown

Pakistan has banned BlackBerry’s enterprise server and its internet and messaging services “for security reasons” in a crackdown on privacy.

Mobile phone operators were told by the Pakistan telecommunication authority on Friday that the BlackBerry services must be shut down by the start of December.

BlackBerry uses strong encryption – part of its appeal to businesses and users – which prevents law enforcement and intelligence agencies from intercepting messages and snooping on user activity.

“PTA has issued directions to local mobile phone operators to close BlackBerry Enterprise Services from Nov. 30 on security reasons,” said a PTA spokesperson.

BlackBerry operates servers through which all internet traffic destined for its smartphones and tablets flows. The servers handle email, messaging, browsing and other communications services, encrypting the data and ensuring greater privacy.

A recent report by Privacy International claims Pakistan’s military intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), is seeking to dramatically expand its ability to intercept communications.

Privacy International said the ISI had few legal checks on its surveillance practices.

“Pakistan’s intelligence agencies have abused their communications surveillance powers, including by spying on opposition politicians and supreme court judges. Widespread internet monitoring and censorship has also been used to target journalists, lawyers and activists,” the report said.

BlackBerry has faced similar problems in the past in India, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and Indonesia.

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In 2010, BlackBerry services were banned within the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Bans were lifted in some states but with tightened restrictions. Prime minister David Cameron also considered banning BlackBerry’s messaging services within the UK during the 2011 riots.

BlackBerry said: “BlackBerry provides the world’s most secure communications platform to government, military and enterprise customers. Protecting that security is paramount to our mission. While we recognise the need to cooperate with lawful government investigative requests of criminal activity, we have never permitted wholesale access to our BES servers.”


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