Pakistan’s mobile operators ordered to shut down BlackBerry Enterprise Services amidst encrypted communications fear
Mobile Service providers in Pakistan are being forced to shut down BlackBerry’s services, following concerns from the country’s security agency.
Pakistan’s five mobile operators will have to cease support of BlackBerry Enterprise Services (BES) by November 30 because the Canadian firm’s platform allows users to communicate via secure networks, making it harder for governments to intercept communications.
“The decision to block the BES was taken on the directives of the interior ministry due to security reasons,” Khurram Mehran, a spokesperson from the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) told Pakistan’s The Express Tribune.
Another senior official at the PTA, who wanted to remain anonymous, said that BlackBerry’s other services will remain online. “Remaining BB [BlackBerry] services such as messenger and BlackBerry Internet Services will continue,” the source said, as quoted by The Wall Street Journal.
Officials at two of the country’s mobile operators confirmed to WSJ that they had been requested to shut down BES by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority. The order, dated July 22, cited “serious concerns by the Security Agency [sic]”, said the paper.
The shut down is unlikely to affect BlackBerry a great deal. Mehran said that there are fewer than 5,000 BES users in Pakistan, and that the shut down is the result of specific security problems Pakistan is facing.
BES enables users to communicate with encrypted messages, with control of the server and network given to the customer’s IT department. The move from Pakistan’s authorities is in accordance with a line of surveillance measures that have seen the country’s citizens snooped, tapped, and watched.
A report dated July 21 from surveillance watchdog Privacy International claims that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) “would tap all internet protocol (IP)-bound communications traffic entering or travelling through Pakistan and corresponding monitoring capacities”.
But the shutdown of BES will be welcomed by some. In a country rocked by terrorist atrocities on its civilian population, and coordinated armed violence only increasing in the country’s cities, any move to prevent potential methods of covert communications between perpetrators of terrorism is easily approved by the authorities.
TechWeekEurope has yet to receive comment from BlackBerry at the time of publication.