Blackberry CEO Gives Public One More Reason To Not Buy Its Phones By Arguing For Greater Law Enforcement Cooperation

from the the-greater-good-is-apparently-whatever-the-government-says-it-is dept

Blackberry's CEO John Chen feels the company hasn't hit rock-bottom yet. In a post for the company's blog, Chen announces that the phone favored by much of The Establishment will continue to support the hopes and dreams of The Establishment.

There will be no "going dark" at Blackberry.

For years, government officials have pleaded to the technology industry for help yet have been met with disdain. In fact, 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. We are indeed in a dark place when companies put their reputations above the greater good. At BlackBerry, we understand, arguably more than any other large tech company, the importance of our privacy commitment to product success and brand value: privacy and security form the crux of everything we do. However, our privacy commitment does not extend to criminals.
Chen notably does not use Apple's name, lest it encourage potential customers to seek out a company that gives a damn about its customers' privacy. Chen claims he won't allow criminals to remain hidden from law enforcement if they're using his company's phones and services. All well and good, but that assumes the only time law enforcement will seek access to encrypted communications and data is when they've obtained a conviction, which is rarely the case.

Sometimes, these agencies are relying on a minimal showing of reasonable suspicion to obtain data/communications with subpoenas and national security letters. Other times, they're working with probable cause and actually obtaining warrants (warrants which also give them permission to seize electronics, thus ending their alleged use in criminal activity). Either way, the question of guilt is still up in the air. What Chen likely means is he won't extend his privacy commitment to people who are suspected of criminal activity, but that doesn't sound nearly as audacious and idealistic as declaring "criminals" will have no place while Chen's in charge.

When your company has been engaged in a multi-year marketshare freefall, it's pretty easy to take shots at companies who worry about possibly "tarnished reputations." Outside of the government itself, Blackberry is nobody's idea of an innovator or a viable threat. When Chen says he's on the side of the government, it's no surprise, as the government has been on his company's side for several years now.

From this self-interested take on the encryption debate, Chen moves on to making questionable assertions about the public's obligation to assist 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.
Just to be clear, citizens are not obligated to "thwart crime." Neither is law enforcement, for that matter. Both can make reasonable efforts to deter criminal activity, but nobody's charged with "thwarting crime." This is why law enforcement agencies must use warrants and other legal paperwork to demand this information. The receiving party's obligation doesn't begin until the paperwork is in hand. Chen almost suggests private companies should be going above and beyond what is required by these court orders.

The key issue in the case Chen doesn't refer to by name is a 1789 law that the feds are using to avoid dealing with the Fifth Amendment. They want Apple to unlock a phone so they can access the contents, rather than spending any more time asking the detained suspect to do this. Apple has refused. It has also noted that, even if it does comply with this order, it will be unable to do so with its newer iPhones.

Chen thinks Apple should just comply with the order "for the greater good," apparently never considering the fact that forcing the government to actually operate within the confines of existing statutes would perhaps result in a form of "greater good" itself.

He then goes on to state his support for encryption and opposition to encryption bans or backdoors. This seems highly unlikely considering his earlier statements about granting the government access to phone contents. He notes he has pulled his products from countries that have demanded backdoors (but not all of them), but doesn't appear to be able to reconcile Blackberry's actions with his criticism of Apple's. Instead, he makes this unsupported statement:
Make no mistake: service providers bear a dual responsibility to protect customer privacy zealously and to cooperate with lawful requests for investigative assistance.
Very idealistic, but whether or not Apple wins this particular battle (and loses more of Chen's respect, whatever that's worth), it will make no difference in the future. Blackberry offers encryption, but Chen's post contains no details about his company's ability to decrypt to comply with law enforcement orders. Blackberry's early implementation of encrypted communications actually led to a former NSA official claiming this was the reason for its downfall. So, unless Blackberry is creating escrow keys, it will be no more cooperative than Apple when the government comes asking for access to communications.

And this is nothing new for Chen. He's been claiming there's some mythical middle ground that will serve both phone manufacturers and the government since a few weeks after the Charlie Hebdo attack. Several months later, his message remains unchanged. There's a balance here, and it must be tipped in favor of law enforcement… for the "greater good."


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 21 Dec 2015 @ 6:47am

    'The Greater Good', for when collateral damage isn't a concern

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

    Anyone using those words is expressing the idea that the means don't matter, all that counts is the goal.

    Violate the privacy of an innocent person? That's the cost that sometimes has to be paid 'for the greater good' of catching criminals.

    Undermine the security of everyone? A small price to be paid 'for the greater good' of making it easier to spy on suspected criminals/terrorists/communists.

    Someone using 'for the greater' good as part of their argument is someone that should never be trusted, because they are employing an argument that allows for anything so long as it serves the 'greater good'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      rw (profile), 21 Dec 2015 @ 8:17am

      Re: 'The Greater Good', for when collateral damage isn't a concern

      ...allows for anything so long as it serves the 'greater good'.

      Especially if that 'greater good' is their own pocket book.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    AricTheRed (profile), 21 Dec 2015 @ 8:41am

    Meet me at the crossroads at midnight...

    When one is desperate, no bright future only squandered potential, nothing left to sell but your soul, go ahead and meet him at the crossroads at midnight.

    What could be the worst that happens?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 21 Dec 2015 @ 8:48am

    Approved Vendor...NOT

    So, Blackberry's will have broken encryption. I wonder how long the various branches of the government will continue to buy/use their products? I think I heard that Obama had one, at one point. Do we really want the whole world listening in on all his conversations? What about CIA/NSA/DIA etc.? Will their covert agents be begging for Blackberry's because they are cool and compromised?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TruthHurts (profile), 21 Dec 2015 @ 8:59am

    However, our privacy commitment does not extend to criminals.

    Ahh, so blackberry will wait until the person has been arrested, tried and convicted before turning over the data, most excellent.

    Wait! What? You mean that you weren't telling the truth?
    That what you really meant was: "However, our privacy commitment does not extend to anyone that law enforcement suspects of committing a crime? That just being accused of a crime or hell just getting caught in a drag-net by constitutional terrorist organizations like the FBI, CIA, NSA is sufficient for you to violate their constitutional rights?

    Wow - and here we thought with your new "Priv", Blackberry was all about privacy, period.

    Thanks for clearing that up, and say goodbye to the entity that Blackberry was.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    beech, 21 Dec 2015 @ 9:22am

    end user?

    So as and end user, how does this motivate me to buy a blackberry? Even if i am a sheeple who is terrified of the baddies going dark, i am a "good guy" who would never dream of using my phone for naughty purposes. Why would i care/want the coppers to have the capacity to raid my phone?

    And how would this really help catch criminals? If you have even one company making a secure phone, it won't matter what blackberry does, because anyone remotely nefarious will just go with the secure option. All this does is make the authorities really REALLY hope people start buying blackberries again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Roger Strong (profile), 21 Dec 2015 @ 10:13am

      Re: end user?

      > And how would this really help catch criminals?

      Fishing expeditions, with the assumption that everyone is a criminal.

      "If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him."
      - Cardinal Richelieu

      Hope This Helps!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Beech, 22 Dec 2015 @ 2:21am

        Re: Re: end user?

        I was thinking more about catching career criminals. If the mafia Don has a choice between an insecure, cop appeasing Blackberry and an encrypted iPhone, why would he pick the blackberry?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    crade (profile), 21 Dec 2015 @ 9:29am

    "our privacy commitment does not extend to criminals."

    This is misstated. He doesn't mean he is prejudicing people shown to be criminals (what reason would he have for that), but that their privacy commitment does not extend to people who *might* be criminals. In other words if you think it extends to you, you are wrong.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Dec 2015 @ 9:55am

    "conviction" -> "warrant" ??

    "the only time law enforcement will seek access to encrypted communications and data is when they've obtained a *conviction,* which is rarely the case."

    Perhaps you meant to say "warrant" ?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Whoever, 21 Dec 2015 @ 11:17am

    "The Greater Good"

    Whenever I hear that phrase, I remember the movie "Hot Fuzz".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Dec 2015 @ 11:18am

    having struggled for as long as they have, trying to get Blackberry back into selling products that people wanted, i guess the last couple of comments made by CEO John Chen, i suspect that all of his blackberries have now been picked!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Dec 2015 @ 11:56am

    Post-It notes

    Sometimes, these agencies are relying on a minimal showing of reasonable suspicion to obtain data/communications with subpoenas and national security letters.

    Don't forget the Post-It notes they've also used.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Dec 2015 @ 2:11pm

    Blackberry still exists? I thought they went under YEARS ago?

    I haven't seen a single person with a blackberry for at least going on five years now....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Dec 2015 @ 3:19am

    The greater good....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Woadan (profile), 22 Dec 2015 @ 8:43am

    Watch now as the irrelevant becomes the obscure

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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