Newswires are ablaze with stories about privacy, Research in Motion, and how the two fit together in the political climate of the Middle East and Southeast Asia. The root of the turmoil stems with the governments and royalty of these nations and their access to the data transmitted to RIM’s BlackBerry mobile communications platform.
The BlackBerry device is the most prevalent communications platform in the world, with the largest market share by brand, and RIM is famously protective of the users of its devices. The BlackBerry platform routes all traffic through proprietary servers in Waterloo, Ontario, in Canada; these servers compress the data for faster transmission, and encrypt it for user privacy.
Several nations, included the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and India, have all approached RIM, threatening to shut down user access to RIM servers, unless they are granted access to end-user encrypted traffic, as well as blocking Internet access to sites that the governments of these nations consider to be objectionable.
Kuwait has requested, and appears to have been granted, restrictions on 3000 sites that the country has deemed pornographic. Talks between RIM and both the UAE and Saudi Arabia have not gone so well; both nations have announced that BlackBerry services like email and BlackBerry Messenger will be disabled immediately, as RIM refuses to comply with their requests.
Users in both areas will experience a total loss of data communication until such time that RIM and their governments are able to come to an agreement or compromise. While RIM appears to be steadfast in their refusal to co-operate, the loss of over 750,000 customers in one nation alone may sway their resolve.
It’s interesting to note that while RIM isn’t willing to offer access to encrypted traffic to these two governments, it does currently offer that access to other governments, including the US. Depending on the encryption integrated into the BlackBerry service leaves users vulnerable to snooping and privacy violations, of both legitimate and illegitimate varieties. As a BlackBerry user, the best way to ensure your data is protected is with a third-party, user-maintained solution. An additional layer of security, like the end-to-end encryption provided by eCrypt software, helps to guarantee that both your privacy and security are safely maintained, without having to worry about government negotiations and posturing.