Pakistan to shut off BlackBerry email over surveillance jitters

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Pakistan to shut off BlackBerry email over surveillance jitters

Remember the days when governments were threatening to cut off BlackBerry's secure email because they couldn't spy on your messages? They're back. Pakistan's Telecommunication Authority has ordered local carriers to shut off BlackBerry Enterprise Service from November 30th due to "security reasons." While the agency isn't specific about what those concerns are, BES typically encrypts messages in such a way that an outside party can't (usually) intercept them in mid-flight. Most likely, Pakistan is worried that gangs and terrorists will use BlackBerry phones to chat in secret.

The move isn't totally surprising for the country, which has gone so far as to require fingerprints as a condition of cellphone service. However, there are questions about both potential abuse and effectiveness. As observers at Privacy International have warned, Pakistan's intelligence outfits aren't known for being scrupulous -- they've spied on journalists, judges, politicians and others daring to challenge the status quo. If BlackBerry were to find a way to offer access to email, it could jeopardize the privacy of many innocent people. Moreover, the BlackBerry shutdown will only do so much when other secure messaging options (such as Apple's iMessage) aren't facing similar threats. There's a chance that the move will prove ineffective as BlackBerry users either switch communication methods or use entirely different devices.

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