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BlackBerry Bans: A Question of Business, or Ethics?

Research in Motion (RIM) has been in the news a lot lately because countries like the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and others plan to ban BlackBerry services from their citizens. Specifically Messenger, Web browsing, and email are deemed a security threat by the governments of these countries, for various reasons. In the majority of cases, governments are concerned by their inability to eavesdrop into BlackBerry communications.

Yet, according to RIM, “the BlackBerry enterprise solution was designed to preclude RIM–or any third party–from reading encrypted information under any circumstances since RIM does not store or have access to the encrypted data” (source: ZDNet). Thus, blocking governments’ ability to tap into RIM communications is by design.

Isn’t it interesting that many of the countries threatening to ban the BlackBerry are some of the worst proponents of Internet censorship? RIM President and co-CEO Mike Lazaridis got it right when he stated to the WSJ: “If they can’t deal with the Internet, they should shut it off.” Technologies such as BlackBerry, Twitter, Facebook, and the Internet itself are all just tools that can be used for good or evil. Being able to communicate securely can provide great benefits for democracy, as seen in Iran during the uprisings last year following the election. Terrorists can, of course, also use these technologies for evil.

RIM has done a great job providing a solid infrastructure that is used by millions around the globe for reliable and secure communications. RIM services have withstood large-scale power outages, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and numerous other natural disasters. Kudos to RIM for standing in the face of opposition. Our hope is that RIM will not back down and enable back doors for surveillance such as those found in Skype clients distributed in China.

Just because the BlackBerry can be a tool for evil does not mean that its effectiveness should be compromised for the rest of the world. If some governments can’t live with that, they should go ahead with their bans.

David Sengupta. In addition to his role as Ferris analyst, David is chief architect for Quest Software, and has been a Microsoft Exchange MVP since 1998.

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