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BlackBerry CEO Vague on RCMP Encryption Key Question

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BlackBerry is in hot water after CEO John Chen refused to comment on just how much help it gave the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) during a 2010-2012 investigation into a Mafia killing.

Chen, in response to an article published by tech site Motherboard, penned a blog post that talked about doing what is “right” and “lawful,” but it failed to answer the question posed by Motherboard in its recent report: Did Blackberry “provide the RCMP with the global encryption key, and has that key changed?”

EXECUTIVE PORTRAIT - John Chen, of the Walt Disney Board of Directors is now  CEO at BlackBerry.(DISNEY/BOB D'AMICO)
EXECUTIVE PORTRAIT – John Chen, of the Walt Disney Board of Directors is now CEO at BlackBerry.(DISNEY/BOB D’AMICO)

Here is a look at what Chen had to say:

When it comes to doing the right thing in difficult situations, BlackBerry’s guiding principle has been to do what is right for the citizenry, within legal and ethical boundaries. We have long been clear in our stance that tech companies as good corporate citizens should comply with reasonable lawful access requests. I have stated before that we are indeed in a dark place when companies put their reputations above the greater good.

This very belief was put to the test in an old case that recently resurfaced in the news, which speculated on and challenged BlackBerry’s corporate and ethical principles. In the end, the case resulted in a major criminal organization being dismantled. Regarding BlackBerry’s assistance, I can reaffirm that we stood by our lawful access principles. Furthermore, at no point was BlackBerry’s BES server involved. Our BES continues to be impenetrable – also without the ability for backdoor access – and is the most secure mobile platform for managing all mobile devices. That’s why we are the gold standard in government and enterprise-grade security.

For BlackBerry, there is a balance between doing what’s right, such as helping to apprehend criminals, and preventing government abuse of invading citizen’s privacy, including when we refused to give Pakistan access to our servers. We have been able to find this balance even as governments have pressured us to change our ethical grounds. Despite these pressures, our position has been unwavering and our actions are proof we commit to these principles.

Motherboard responded that Chen’s response neither confirmed nor denied “the answer to the most burning question raised by our investigation: Did BlackBerry give the Royal Canadian Mounted Police … the key to every consumer BlackBerry user’s digital front door?”

The drama with BlackBerry comes at a time when Apple is fighting the U.S. government over requests to unlock iPhones connected to criminal investigations.

Chen, in the past, has been critical of Apple and its stance on such matters — although the CEO was careful not to call out Apple by name.

“We reject the notion that tech companies should refuse reasonable, lawful access requests,” Chen wrote in his December blog post. “Just as individual citizens bear responsibility to help thwart crime when they can safely do so, so do corporations have a responsibility to do what they can, within legal and ethical boundaries, to help law enforcement in its mission to protect us.”

He went on to say that “corporations must reject attempts by federal agencies to overstep. BlackBerry has refused to place backdoors in its devices and software. We have never allowed government access to our servers and never will.”

Do you agree with Chen or should BlackBerry fight every government request for data?

About the author

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Jennifer Cowan

Jennifer Cowan is the Managing Editor for SiteProNews.