Pakistan to shut down BlackBerry services on “security” grounds
A leaked memo dated July 22 from the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA), seen by ZDNet but its authenticity can’t be immediately verified, purports to show minutes from a meeting a week prior, calling on three of the largest major cell phone providers to shut down BlackBerry’s encrypted messaging service (BES).
“Due to serious concerns by the security agency, Mobilink, Ufone, and Telenor Pakistan are requested to offer 90 days notice as per the existing provisions to their BES customers for closing their BES connections, and ensure that all BES connections of their customers must be closed by or before November 30 without fail,” the official memo reads.
The named cell providers were asked to submit compliance reports due at the end of the month.
Citing an official at the PTA who asked not to be named, Reuters also confirmed the news.
There are thought to be only a few thousand BES customers in the country — most of which are government or business users, or attached to foreign embassies. But authorities are concerned that criminals are also using the encrypted service, which cannot be intercepted, amid almost daily terrorist attacks and abductions from both domestic threats and foreign fighters.
The country remains on high alert following recent bombings and numerous gun attacks in 2014.
News of the shut down comes just days after British civil liberties group Privacy International said Pakistan’s main intelligence branch was pushing for greater surveillance powers.
In a blog post, the privacy watchdog said the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency was moving to “tap all internet protocol (IP)-bound communications traffic entering or travelling through Pakistan and corresponding monitoring capacities.”
“It means capacitating the country’s most notorious intelligence service to spy on more of the country’s citizens and expecting it to police its own actions,” the post read.
It’s not the first time BlackBerry has faced being shut down by a government.
The Canadian smartphone maker’s secure messaging service has faced disruption in India, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, and Indonesia, after their governments expressed concern that criminals and terrorists were using the service.
BlackBerry spokesperson Kara Yi said in an emailed statement: “BlackBerry provides the world’s most secure communications platform to government, military and enterprise customers. Protecting that security is paramount to our mission. While we recognize the need to cooperate with lawful government investigative requests of criminal activity, we have never permitted wholesale access to our BES servers.”
When asked to comment specifically on the reported upcoming Pakistan ban, Yi declined to comment further.
Representatives from Mobilink, Ufone, and Telenor Pakistan did not respond at the time of writing.