Quoted: BlackBerry CEO criticizes Apple’s stance on encryption

“We are indeed in a dark place when companies put their reputations above the greater good.”

John Chen, CEO of BlackBerry, in a blog post this week about phone encryption. Chen didn’t mention Apple by name, but the sentence before the quote above made it clear: “One of the world’s most powerful tech companies recently refused a lawful access request in an investigation of a known drug dealer because doing so would ‘substantially tarnish the brand‘ of the company.” (As I’ve written, Apple has let it be known it’s not going to be cooperative when it comes to unlocking iPhones for the government and law enforcement, and CEO Tim Cook also has been vocal about his stance on encryption and user privacy.)

In the post, Chen positions BlackBerry as having answers to the hard questions sparked by encryption:

BlackBerry is in a unique position to help bring the two sides of this debate together, to find common ground and a way forward. BlackBerry’s customers include not only millions of privacy-conscious consumers but also the banks, law firms, hospitals, and – yes, governments (including 16 of the G20) – that use our products and services to protect their highest value resources every single day. We stand as an existence proof that a proper balance can be struck.

Chen’s post is interesting because — as he points out — the company used to do battle with governments that wanted access to encrypted communications. But he says companies shouldn’t just flat out refuse to cooperate with government and law enforcement:

We reject the notion that tech companies should refuse reasonable, lawful access requests. 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.

However, it is also true 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. We have made decisions to exit national markets when the jurisdictional authorities demand access that would abuse the privacy of law-abiding citizens.

BlackBerry shares are up sharply today, more than 11 percent, after the Canadian company reported earnings that beat expectations. Its focus on software and services for the enterprise appears to be working, according to the Wall Street Journal. Chen also said the company is pushing into self-driving cars.


Photo: A Canadian flag flies at BlackBerry’s headquarters in Waterloo, Ont., Tuesday, July 9, 2013. (The Canadian Press via Associated Press)


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  • jim kelly

    Would really like to know how Mr Chen reconciles his criticism with his own company’s vaunted commitment to security. So if tech companies create back door access to their products,esp to Govt’s, how do they then guarantee the privacy of any data from any person or company? The problem with creating back doors into the security of tech devices creates more problems than it purports to solve. With the rise of the cloud, more encryption is necessary

  • USMC 8th and I

    This government already has us by the short hairs…….if they could install a camera in every room of your house….THEY WOULD. Good for Apple…..

  • ellafino

    It is easy for a company whose share of the personal cellphone market has sunk below even Microsoft to say let the government have their way.
    In fact the only customer base they have left is government agencies.