Research in Motion'sco-CEO Michael Lazaridis is being quoted in a Wall Street Journalinterview as saying that the fight it is having with countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and India among others who are threatening to suspend Blackberry mobile services unless they are given greater access to RIM's encrypted data stream need to do a rethink. He is quoted as saying,
"This is about the Internet. Everything on the Internet is encrypted. This is not a BlackBerry-only issue. If they can't deal with the Internet, they should shut it off."
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) citing national security concerns, indicated over the weekend that it would be suspending RIM's Blackberry mobile services including its email, Messenger and Web-browsing services beginning the 11th of October unless it can gain access to them.
Shortly after, the Saudi Arabian government announced that it would be banning Blackberry instant messaging services beginning tomorrow.
India says that it is still in talks with RIM, and hopes to have an agreement worked out soon.
Lebanon's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority announced today that it too would be looking at Blackberry's because of "security concerns."
There are also conflicting news reports (see here and here) that say Indonesia is also considering a ban.
In the WSJ article, Mr. Lazaridis indicated that, "RIM wouldn't compromise the security of its products" but that "the company would have to cooperate with authorities if handed a court order to do a lawful intercept of a person's communications."
In such a case, RIM would hand over the encrypted stream, like a "wiretap," Mr. Lazaridis said.
This implies that the encryption algorithm wouldn't be turned over, however. According to this Forbes blog post, RIM has already done this with Russia and likely China.
Mr. Lazaridis also said in his WSJ interview that he thinks that the issue is politically motivated.
In addition, if government regulators were only better educated in computer science, the whole problem would go away. Mr. Lazaridis is quoted by the Journal as saying,
"We are going to continue to work with them to make sure they understand the reality of the Internet ... A lot of these people don't have Ph.Ds, and they don't have a degree in computer science."
I am sure that comment went over nicely with the regulators in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, India, etc.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.