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BlackBerry gives way to pressure from governments

(RSF/IFEX) - 10 October 2011 - Reporters Without Borders is worried about the concessions that Research in Motion (RIM), the Canadian company that manufactures the BlackBerry smartphone, is making to governments that want access to the encrypted data transmitted over its networks.

RIM recently reached secret agreements with several countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, after they threatened to suspend its mobile phone services.

Pressure on RIM has been growing since it provided information to the British authorities during the rioting in London in August, when claims that rioters were using the BlackBerry messaging service to communicate with each other caused a stir.

Reporters Without Borders reiterates its call to RIM to put the protection of personal data and the confidentiality of messages between users before other considerations.

Kuwait: blocking porn sites

The newspaper Jarida reported in August that RIM had reached an agreement with the Kuwaiti communication ministry to block porn sites on BlackBerry smartphones from the end of 2011 onwards. Reporters Without Borders warns that legal websites could be blocked as a result of "overblocking" and calls on the government to rescind this measure.

India: access to instant messaging and email

In India, RIM and the government have reinforced their cooperation. Telecommunications minister R. Chandrasekhar reported on 3 October that government technicians were testing the "interception solution" that RIM had provided for BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES), its most secure corporate email service.

He said he expected to have the results from the tests by the end of the month. If it appears to work, the government will allow BES to continue operating while monitoring continues. Reporters Without Borders fears that the government will step its monitoring of users and will extend this practice to the services of other smartphone manufacturers such as Nokia.

Indonesia: local server in future?

After agreeing to block porn sites in January, RIM was told by the Indonesian government in August that all messages between BlackBerrys in Indonesia would have to be channelled through a server located in Indonesia by December. Until now, messages have been transmitted through servers mostly located in Canada, which makes government monitoring impossible. Using a local server in Indonesia would allow monitoring and would enable the government to interrupt services if it felt the need.

South Africa: reinforced control?

Deputy communications minister Obed Bapela said on 5 September that criminals were using BlackBerry Messenger to plan and execute crimes, and that the government wanted to "review BBM like in the UK and Saudi Arabia." The statement is worrying in a country where mobile phone owners are already required to register their ownership in order to facilitate the fight against crime.

Russia: software that cracks BlackBerry passwords

The Russian government has repeatedly expressed its desire to access the personal data of smartphone users. Now the Russian security software company Elcomsoft has released an upgrade to its mobile phone password breaker software that can crack the passwords of BlackBerry smartphones, previously considered impossible to break, and thereby permit access to all of their data content.

The software retails for 199 dollars, which means the ability to break into a smartphone is available to anyone. While the Russian government seems to have had no direct role in the development of this software, Reporters Without Borders fears that its use in a country that Reporters Without Borders has already classified as "under surveillance" will have dire consequences for the confidentiality of smartphone user data.

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