Corporate Lies: Why the Story Behind BlackBerry Pakistan Exit Sounds Fishy

So it has finally happened. Following government directives, BlackBerry has exited Pakistan, leaving behind a minor yet vocal user base fuming.

But there are a lot of unanswered questions here. Theories abound as to how BlackBerry was ‘kicked out’ of Pakistan or how BlackBerry didn’t think that the ‘limited’ business customers here justified its presence.

Let’s take a look at some facts here.

Update

PTA Gives Blackberry Another Month to Reach a Deal and Stay in Pakistan

Of Government Threats and BlackBerry’s Response Overseas

In today’s security-obsessed world, many countries have taken measures (draconian and otherwise) to curb the use of encrypted communication services.  After the Peshawar APS attacks, we witnessed how mobile operators had to carry out a more stringent process of biometric verification to weed out bogus mobile SIM registrations. Statistically, as per media reports, more than 27.5 million SIMs were blocked during the process.

BlackBerry was, of course, asked to allow access to its encrypted servers. The company declined and summarily released a statement detailing its ‘moral high ground’ in not folding to government pressure.

If BB’s response sounds like corporate hogwash to you, that’s because it is. And here’s why.

Pakistan wasn’t the only country that asked BlackBerry to comply or else. Here are some other examples.

  • UAE – Threatened to Ban BlackBerry in 2010. BlackBerry allowed data access to government.
  • Saudi Arabia – Threatened to Ban BlackBerry in 2010. BlackBerry allowed data access to government.
  • India – Nearly Banned Blackberry in 2010. Reached a deal with the company in Jun 2013.

How Did BlackBerry Allow Data Access to These Governments?

There are theories that detail how the governments of those other countries and BlackBerry reached a ‘compromise.’

The most technical explanation is that BlackBerry allowed the government to use an ‘encryption key’ in limited cases. This key could give governments access to confidential conversations. Since BlackBerry houses its servers in Canada, governments couldn’t raid and access it.

Here’s another theory. They didn’t allow access. The governments, facing a public backlash from all the corporate businesses in their countries, silently dropped the demand for the ban. Here, the economy basically trumped security.

Do These Things Apply To Pakistan?

In Pakistan’s case, where the national exchequer has reserves of $17 billion approximately, the business pressure argument doesn’t hold much water. It is safe to assume that the security aspect came into play.

However, knowing how Pakistan’s official machinery works when it comes to technology, there is more to this story. The mismanagement of YouTube issue is a case at point, where other governments have seen their requests honored by Google, in Pakistan they denied similar treatment and resultantly they are blocked here.

Did something similar happen with Government-BlackBerry negotiations regarding a compromise agreement? Your guess is as good as mine.

Concluding Thoughts

The debate between security and liberty is a delicate one, but every country has its own unique challenges that ensure that there’s no clear-cut answer to this debate.

Pakistan’s terrorism problem needed drastic measures, and the powers-that-be decreed that our version of the Patriot Act was the need of the hour. Hence the BlackBerry fiasco.

But the real question is that why Blackberry announced its exit today by saying that it can’t fulfill Pakistan’s demands, when the general perception is that it’s kicked out of country for not complying to local need? Given its ‘compromise’ in other countries, what made it treat Pakistani demands differently?

This shows that Blackberry has played well with the press and now western media is appreciating Blackberry for its stand and conveniently ignoring the fact that Blackberry was, in fact, asked to leave.

The Pakistani government, on the other hand, has failed us again by getting all the negative press that could’ve easily been avoided.

Do you think there’s more to the BlackBerry Pakistan saga? Who is to blame? Let us know below.

 

UPDATE: The Government of Pakistan has notified BlackBerry that it has extended its shutdown order from November 30 to December 30. BlackBerry will delay its exit from the Pakistan market until then.

Samir is the Head of Entertainment at Lens by ProPakistani. You can reach out to him at samir.ya...


  • I doubt that even 1% smartphone users of Pakistan were using BB services, So why this end of BB’s fiasco in market getting so much limelight?? Wasn’t BB already kicked out from country by users??

    • Some of iOS services are also going to be blocked after BB situation. I’ve heard from many sources and smarphones importers in Hafeez Center that they have stopped iOS devices’ import once Govt’s stance on it is cleared. Else, even I heard that same fate will be of Apple in Pakistan. Days to come will show clear image how much truth this prevails.

      • the fact is Apple devices are already too expensive and after putting 30 percent tax by govt. of Pakistan it becomes crazily expensive. Most shops in Pakistan are selling smuggled iphones and ipads from UK or UAE, even many dealers will tell you that fact.

  • Bahanay hain janay kay.
    they lost hold on customers. new OS has emerged which filled all gaps of techs.
    Blacberry thing is old, they are crying, after exit , they wanted to be martyred. :-)

  • The solution to the Privacy vs Security debate lies in choosing a middle ground. As long as there’s a legitimate reason (plus a warrant), I don’t see any reason NOT to give the relevant security apparatus access to private data. Unfettered acces, however, has always been used to curb free speech and (political) dissent.

  • Your article makes zero sense. Blackberry isn’t lying, it’s telling the users exactly why it’s leaving Pakistan. The only reason it would take such a step is because it failed to reach a compromise with the government. Because Blackberry concluded successful agreements with other freedom-curtailing-governments in the past, it should be clearly abundant that Blackberry must’ve offered the same solution to Pakistan that they offered to UAE/Saudi. Therefore, the reason Blackberry is packing bags is because the Pakistani security apparatus rejected the compromise solution offered by Blackberry.

    Instead of accosting Blackberry, here’s a suggestion: try finding out why is it that Pakistan is at the forefront of curtailing free speech and civil liberties of its citizens. The government’s banned thousands of websites, YouTube and apps such as FaceTime (although for the life of me I don’t understand what it hopes to achieve by this). Is our freedom of speech, expression so worthless that the government won’t even let its citizens keep their privacy?

    • Why are you wasting your energy on a matter which didnt affect even 1% market.
      Even in china whatsapp, facebook etc are banned. Are they fool? There is always a solid reason for Govt to keep something ban. If today Govt decide to unblock youtube there will be million of mullahs and pro religious teams will break Govt properties as google uses unique tupe of URLs technoque which which cant be partialy blocked. This is why youtube is block in Pakistan

      • >Why are you wasting your energy on a matter which didnt affect even 1% market.

        It matters if it affects even a single person.

        >Even in china whatsapp, facebook etc are banned. Are they fool?

        Good work citing the example of a country that is amongst the worst when it comes to human rights.

        >There is always a solid reason for Govt to keep something ban. If today Govt decide to unblock youtube there will be million of mullahs and pro religious teams will break Govt properties tomorrow as google uses unique type of URLs technique which cant be partialy blocked. This is why youtube is block in Pakistan

        So we ban things whenever a group’s feelings get hurt? That won’t make it go away. It’s still there on the internet. We’ve just hidden our head in the sand in the hope that maybe it will go away. Well, guess what? It’s not going away.
        People are going to disagree, it’s time we – as a nation – learned that.

        • I agree on first 2 points but do you have any odea how govt can handle religious activitist groups like JI, JUI and ASWJ to not hurt public/pvt property of ban lifted on youtube?

          • Like the rest of the civilized world deals with activists; by holding talks and coming up with a middle ground. Both sides cede ground. Hold talks with Google and convince them to remove hateful content. A blanket ban doesn’t achieve anything.

      • Youtube? B*tc* please! What about faith freedom or religionofpeace? Shouldn’t the government block them first? No cause religion is just an excuse to do something you like dislike.

        instead of being cowards and blocking YouTube we should show we ain’t affected and are true tolerant followers of the religion and a little video won’t cripple our belief.

        • I agree u but one should have to understand the position of Govt. Once govt unblock youtube country wide protest will start by religious activitists and all Govt and private properties will gone on stake.

      • Actually, at the end of 2014, Blackberry had a solid 15% of the Pakistani market.

        Please, if you want to object, then do so based on facts. Not your own ignorant guesses. And yes, this article was poorly researched, poorly written. Complete speculatory garbage.

    • About governmental attempts to curtail civil liberties and free speech, there I’m on the same page as you.
      The only point of contention arises when you consider what BB’s COO Marty Beard said in his blogpost regarding his company’s exit from Pakistan. He has given the impression that BlackBerry is committed to protecting users’ privacy come what may (untrue when you look at the example countries listed above).

      The whole story is yet to play out as the PK government has now given BlackBerry till Dec 30 to exit. Lets see what happens. Wouldn’t be surprised if they reach a compromise during this period.

    • Dear Hamza, Security of our dear ones is more important than privacy. if you are not doing anything bad you should not worry about this.

      • Dear Amjad, that is the line of reasoning you should NEVER use in an argument for more surveillance. Privacy is a basic human right. I know I’m not a bad person, but let’s assume for a moment that I’m a political dissident. What do you think is going to happen to me if the state has “unfettered” access to all my communications? Dead bodies on the side of roads in Quetta ring any bell? What if I’m a journalist and I want to expose those with infinite power? The name Saleem Shahzad ring any bells? What if I want to express an opinion that is contrary to what the state and state agencies want me to say? What if I want to listen to something that the state does not want me to listen to? When the state has unlimited powers to read and look into everything I say, do, write or read, they have the power to control me and everybody else to their narrative without any checks and balances. So no, I have not done anything bad nor do I intend to, but I am damn worried about the curtailing freedom of speech that we do have. If the state is so damn worried about terrorists and terrorism, maybe it should go ban pages of ASWJ, LeJ, LeT, TTP all of which are freely available on the internet and social media. Why does the state have to snoop in on MY communications?

    • Y’all thinks it’s govt behind this. it’s not. It’s military all along. The parliament agrees to lift ban on YouTube. Army doesn’t let it. Because Google won’t take off videos of Pakistan army brutalities. The data these guys ask for is not reasonable. Our agencies require complete access on anyone. They’re more interested in politicians than in terrorists.

      All your freedoms are going to dogs. Time to realise who’s responsible!

  • نمبر ون رانی سے ایک میسج ڈکرپٹ نہ ہوا تو سروسز ہے بند کر دی لکن پھر بی نمبر ون

  • I doubt that. Must be just a regular SMS you’re confusing for an iMessage since both use the same number.

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