BlackBerry Is Eager to Intercept Messages for Foreign Police

The company has assisted "dozens" of police forces.

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Jun 9 2016, 1:16pm

Image: Flickr/athriftymrs.com

Struggling Canadian smartphone manufacturer BlackBerry has built its brand on the privacy it provides its customers—an image that is now crumbling.

BlackBerry gladly handed over subscriber and device information, communications, and even decrypted communications for law enforcement agencies in "dozens" of countries, according to a CBC report published Thursday that spoke to anonymous former employees in the company's Public Safety Operations team, which works with law enforcement.

The company even offers global law enforcement a stock cover letter with checkboxes that indicate whether they wish to receive device and subscriber information, message logs, or "other," which CBC reports as meaning decrypting messages secured with BlackBerry's technology, which the company has touted for years.

Concern has been brewing over BlackBerry's potential for cooperation with unscrupulous regimes around the world. In 2015, the company threatened to exit Pakistan rather than give the government access to its corporate BlackBerry Enterprise Servers, demonstrating that it draws the line somewhere, but this CBC report raises some serious questions about which countries BlackBerry has been cooperating with.

BlackBerry could not immediately be reached for comment.

Motherboard and VICE News reported in April that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had obtained BlackBerry's global encryption key, which allows the police agency to decrypt any messages sent between BlackBerry phones not on a corporate network.

At the time, the RCMP sent BlackBerry "comfort letters" asking for assistance in intercepting messages, but would not divulge the scope of BlackBerry's involvement with police. Still, the report raised serious questions about BlackBerry's willingness to go the extra mile for its partners in law enforcement.

Perhaps most concerning in the CBC report, however, is the evident gung-ho attitude among the employees who agreed to speak anonymously about their work handing over information to foreign cops. One described the job as "helping law enforcement kick ass." Another waxed poetic about the number of gnarly crimes she presumes to have thwarted. "Knowing you are stopping those things," she said, "how do you not love doing something like that?"

While smartphone giant Apple has positioned itself as being unfriendly to police demands for access to customer data, BlackBerry has been more, let's say, openminded.

In a now-infamous 2015 blog post, CEO John Chen stated: "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."

It seems as though Chen's enthusiasm for handing customer information over to the police has rubbed off on his employees.