Here’s BlackBerry’s Stance on Government Surveillance

November 19, 2015, 12:43 AM UTC
Hillary Rodham Clinton
FILE - In this Oct. 18, 2011, file photo, then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton checks her Blackberry from a desk inside a C-17 military plane upon her departure from Malta, in the Mediterranean Sea, bound for Tripoli, Libya. It’s a photo that became an Internet meme: Hillary Rodham Clinton, wearing sunglasses, staring at her BlackBerry. Now it’s becoming a focal point for Republicans on the House committee that’s investigating the deadly attacks in Benghazi, Libya. The chairman, South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy, wants to know why the panel has no emails from the day the photo was taken as Clinton, then the secretary of state, was en route to Tripoli. (AP Photo/Kevin Lamarque, Pool, File)
Photograph by Kevin Lamarque — AP

BlackBerry’s philosophy about encryption and law enforcement requests is to take a “balanced approach,” according to chief operating officer Marty Beard.

His comment, reported by FedScoop from a conference of tech and government IT leaders in Washington DC, was aimed at setting BlackBerry apart from rivals that he described as being “all about encryption all the way.”

Encryption is a hot topic, thrust once again into the forefront of debates after the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Lawmakers want easier access to would-be criminals’ data. Technology companies like Dell have proclaimed such access is a horrible idea.

When Fortune tried to clarify Beard’s statement, a BlackBerry spokeswoman provided the following:

Encryption is very important to protect governments, business and individuals from hacking. That’s why so many world leaders and CEOs rely on BlackBerry to protect their data. At the same time, no one wants to see terrorists and criminals taking advantage of encryption to evade detection. That’s why we have always strongly supported law enforcement around the world when they need our help. While we do not support so-called ‘back-doors,’ we and every other tech company bears a responsibility to do all we can to help governments protect their citizens.

The competitor Beard was referring to is likely Apple, a staunch supporter of encryption. Apple CEO Tim Cook has repeatedly touted Apple’s (AAPL) lack of a back door into the company’s’ products as a key selling point.

In theory, encryption back doors would let law enforcement peek into a suspect’s electronic communications without compromising the security of the overall platform. Cook says if a backdoor is present for the good guys, bad guys will find and take advantage of it. Furthermore, Apple’s privacy website claims it lacks the ability to unlock a customer’s device, nor can it decrypt your iMessage conversations in real time.

BlackBerry’s position on sharing data with government entities has changed throughout the years. In 2010, then BlackBerry co-CEO Mike Lazardis told The New York Times that his company wouldn’t give into government pressure. Three years later, BlackBerry struck a deal with Indian officials that provided access to real-time communications.

BlackBerry’s position in 2015 for protecting user data involves cooperating with governments in the name of safety. Exactly where “balance” comes into play, however, remains a mystery.

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