Not any more

RIM reputation on line with government-access issues

In Canada on August 11, 2010 at 20:35

OTTAWA — The real story behind the backroom negotiations between BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. and several overseas states is whether the tech giant will stand true to its values or appease regimes eager to intrude on the lives of citizens, says one of Canada’s foremost telecommunications analysts.

Since Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates announced they planned to ban BlackBerry services, Waterloo, Ont.-based RIM has been relatively silent about what it is doing to maintain its position as the mobile device of choice for the world’s business leaders.

Eamon Hoey, senior partner with Hoey Associates, said the company needs to make a decision soon — and make it public.

"I think it goes back to your values. You have to support your values," said Hoey. "And if one of your values is preserving the secrecy of your customers, then I think you have a problem."

Hoey disagrees with telecom analysts who say making side deals with regimes is a normal part of doing business and RIM should expect to bend further.

"Where do you draw the line," he asked. "I think once you’ve (agreed to government demands) as it appears RIM has done, I think now you are on a slippery slope."

Moreover, RIM could expect the Saudi and other governments to demand more intrusive measures at a later date once they realize that RIM will bend to pressure.

Saudi Arabian state news agency said that RIM has "complete(ed) parts of regulatory requirements" that will allow the company to continue its presence in that country.

Saudi Arabia’s Communication and Information Technology Commission (CITC) had concerns over RIM’s encrypted network. Details of the deal have not been made public and RIM did not respond to request for comment from Postmedia News.

Nor is RIM commenting on possible negotiations with other governments such as the United Arab Emirates — which is planning to ban BlackBerry services beginning in early October — or India, which is also reportedly planning to shut down services if its security concerns aren’t met.

Reuters reported Wednesday that Indian government officials are meeting with the country’s internal security chief Thursday. RIM would not comment on the matter.

Kuwait and Indonesia are also believed to be expressing their security concerns with RIM.

Hoey compared RIM’s situation with that of Google Inc.’s relationship with China. The search engine wanted to do business in that lucrative market, yet faced blowback from North American consumers who didn’t appreciate how Google helped the Chinese censor web pages.

Hoey said that current and potential BlackBerry subscribers might appreciate the company more if RIM took a firm stance on the privacy of its network. He said some customers could abandon the company altogether if they find out the network isn’t as secure as they were led to believe.

If allowed access to BlackBerry messages, governments could conceivably demand copies of all the e-mails that go through its network, or e-mails solely from opposition political parties, Hoey said. Additionally, it is not known how much access Saudi Arabia will now have, opening up questions about whether the country can spy on citizens from other countries.

Hoey says the important issue is not economic but political.

"Bay Street is measuring RIM’s response to these governments by how its going to affect its profitability; that’s the wrong answer," he said.

Regardless if RIM stands to lose money if it is blocked from certain countries — especially in India, second only to China in the global mobile market — the company needs to respond to customers first.

On Aug. 2, in one of RIM’s rare statements to the public on this issue, the company sent out what they called an "update" to "valued BlackBerry customer(s)." The statement was issued to reassure customers that their information remained safe.

"The BlackBerry architecture was specifically designed to provide corporate customers with the ability to transmit information wirelessly while also providing them with the necessary confidence that no one, including RIM, could access their data," the statement read. "RIM assures customers that it will not compromise the integrity and security of the BlackBerry Enterprise Solution."

© Copyright (c) Postmedia News

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