Countries around the globe have been threatening Research in Motion (RIM) for months now, publicly stating that they would ban BlackBerry services if RIM refuses to provide decryption keys to various governments. The tech press has generally focused on ‘governments just don’t get how encryption works’ rather than ‘this is how BlackBerry security works, and how government demands affect consumers and businesses alike.’ This post is an effort to more completely respond to the second focus in something approximating comprehensive detail.
I begin by writing openly and (hopefully!) clearly about the nature and deficiencies of BlackBerry security and RIM’s rhetoric around consumer security in particular. After sketching how the BlackBerry ecosystem secures communications data, I pivot to identify many of the countries demanding greater access to BlackBerry-linked data communications. Finally, I suggest RIM might overcome these kinds of governmental demands by transitioning from a 20th to 21st century information company. The BlackBerry server infrastructure, combined with the vertical integration of the rest of their product lines, limits RIM to being a ‘places’ company. I suggest that shifting to a 21st century ‘spaces’ company might limit RIM’s exposure to presently ‘enjoyed’ governmental excesses by forcing governments to rearticulate notions of sovereignty in the face of networked governance.
In the domain of telecom policy, it seems like a series of bad ideas (re)arise alongside major innovations in communications systems and technologies. In this post, I want to turn to the telegraph to shed light on issues of communication bandwidth, security and privacy that are being (re)addressed by regulators around the world as they grapple with the Internet. I’ll speak to the legacy of data retention in analogue and digital communicative infrastructures, congestion management, protocol development, and encryption policies to demonstrate how these issues have arisen in the past, and conclude by suggesting a few precautionary notes about the future of the Internet. I do want to acknowledge, before getting into the meat of this post, that while the telegraph can be usefully identified as a precursor to the digital Internet because of the strong analogies between the two technological systems it did use different technological scaffolding. Thus, lessons that are drawn are based on the analogical similarities, rather than technical homogeneity between the systems.
The telegraph took years to develop. Standardization was a particular issues, perhaps best epitomized by the French having an early telegraph system of (effectively) high-tech signal towers, whereas other nations struggled to develop interoperable cross-continental electrically-based systems. Following the French communication innovation (which was largely used to coordinate military endeavours), inventors in other nations such as Britain and the United States spent considerable amounts of time learning how to send electrical pulses along various kinds of cables to communicate information at high speed across vast distances.