In another blow to the traditionally dominant makers of the Blackberry, the device has come under fire from Pakistani government officials. New reports show that the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority is going to order a shut-off of Blackberry Enterprise services late in the fall.
The ostensible reason for this crackdown is security issues — and while the Pakistani government hasn’t spelled this out clearly, it’s likely that officials are worried about encryption that allows individual users to shield messages from government scrutiny. That raises questions of anti-terrorism policy and how governments will be able to protect citizens against terrorist activities, while balancing the security needs with civil liberties concerns, and providing a middle ground for a healthy democracy.
An Environment of Caution
Threatening to crack down on individual devices isn’t the only thing the Pakistani government is doing to try to force users out into the open and keep tabs on digital activities within the country. For example, there’s been quite a lot of surveillance by the Pakistani espionage agencies in various different ways. Then there’s the political side, where lots of Pakistanis have had to register their fingerprints just to get cell phone service. But although these measures are certainly draconian, there are questions about whether or not they really will work, because those who want to remain anonymous or keep their messages private can sometimes achieve this by switching to different devices or platforms.
The Blackberry Struggle
the news is another grim notification for the Blackberry company — although in its heyday, these devices were carried by many Americans, the U.S. market has largely moved on to iPhone and Android devices, as well as a few other third party types of smart phones and handheld mobile devices. Blackberry has increasingly focused its sales on other markets like Pakistan’s — markets that could be considered ‘second world’ or ‘developing.’ Here, users may carry around used Blackberry models that may have been previously used in first world markets when they were new.
When these governments then start to ostracize Blackberry for its security properties, they shut Blackberry out of even more markets, which further depresses sales. The company isn’t taking all of this lying down, which is why, for example, CEO John Chen has taken the fight to Apple and other companies by insisting that there’s been discrimination against Blackberry, on the part of companies like Netflix, regarding app-sharing deals and compatibility for some of the most popular streaming services in American markets.
Governments and Privacy Efforts
It’s likely that all sorts of governments will continue to try to limit the ways that consumers can avoid third-party surveillance. At the same time, privacy advocates will continue to argue for technologies like VPNs, proxies and third-party services that can encrypt or shield private information. The result is likely to be a tricky touchpoint for global politics for the foreseeable future, and Blackberry is just one example. Our struggle around security and privacy changes the way that we view new technologies and whether they work for us or against us, in a complicated digital world that can cut both ways. In this environment, there are a lot of compelling questions, not just about government crackdowns on platforms, or even on spying, but on how policy drives the evolution of markets and consumer behavior. Look for more of this news as technology and communications markets keep going through these inevitable growing pains.