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BlackBerry will not operate in Pakistan after Nov 30

30 November, 2015

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ISLAMABAD: BlackBerry will not operate in Pakistan after Nov 30, Chief Operating Officer Marty Beard confirmed in a statement posted to the smartphone makers' website.

Beard says the company will exit the market because "remaining in Pakistan would have meant forfeiting our commitment to protect our users’ privacy".

The COO says: "In July, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority notified the country’s mobile phone operators that BlackBerry’s BES servers would no longer be allowed to operate in the country starting in December 'for security reasons'."

"Pakistan’s demand for open access to monitor a significant swath of our customers’ communications within its borders left us no choice but to exit the country entirely," Beard added.

He goes on to say the Pakistani government wanted the ability to monitor all BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) traffic in the country, including emails and BlackBerry Messenger messages.

"Pakistan’s demand was not a question of public safety; we are more than happy to assist law enforcement agencies in investigations of criminal activity. Rather, Pakistan was essentially demanding unfettered access to all of our BES customers’ information," the COO said.

Director BoloBhi and digital rights activist Farieha Aziz said the situation in Pakistan was getting worse, not better, as companies to whom privacy of data and protection of speech is important would be wary of establishing a presence in the country.

Aziz said that BlackBerry's stance would put other companies on the civil society organisation's radar regarding compliance with the Pakistani government.

The PTA in July had issued a notification saying, “Due to serious concerns expressed by security agencies, Mobilink, Ufone and Telenor are requested to give their BES customers 90 days notice for closing their connections by or before Nov 30, 2015.”

Citing security reasons, the first notice about the discontinuation of BlackBerry services was issued earlier in 2015.

But PTA clarified in a statement that other BlackBerry services such as messenger and BlackBerry Internet services (BIS) would continue. There are 4,000 to 5,000 BES customers in Pakistan.

Officials in the cellular industry have said BlackBerry phones are a thing of the past and most of their subscribers have switched over to other smart phones, but large business enterprises and foreign missions are still using BES.

BES users access internet through a dedicated server which is a private, internal network within a company and is like a mini-internet that is cut off from the rest of the world. The BES subscribers can connect with the internet as well, but with added layers of security.

Both BES and BIS allow BlackBerry users to get email and retrieve web-pages. In the case of BIS, the network operates the server. Everything from BIS to BlackBerry devices is encrypted, but that’s about the extent of security features.

For BES, the company operates the server and usually has it sitting somewhere within the corporate network. The IT department controls all aspects of the BES server and its likely sitting is secured location.

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