On April 10, 2014, Blackberry’s enterprise chief publicly stated that his company had no intention of releasing transparency reports concerning how often, and under what terms, the company has disclosed Blackberry users’ personal information to government agencies. BlackBerry’s lack of transparency stands in direct contrast to its competitors: Google began releasing transparency reports in 2009, and Apple and Microsoft in 2013. And BlackBerry’s competitors are rigorously competing on personal privacy as well, with Apple recently redesigning their operating system to render the company unable to decrypt iDevices for government agencies and having previously limited its ability to decrypt iMessage communications. Google will soon be following Apple’s lead.
So, while Blackberry’s competitors are making government access to telecommunications data transparent to consumers and working to enhance their users’ privacy, BlackBerry remains tight-lipped about how it collaborates with government agencies. And as BlackBerry attempts to re-assert itself in the enterprise market — and largely cede the consumer market to its competitors — it is unclear how it can alleviate business customers’ worries about governments accessing BlackBerry-transited business information. Barring the exceptional situation where data from BlackBerry’s network is introduced as evidence in a court process businesses have no real insight of the extent to which Blackberry is compelled to act against its users’ interests by disclosing information to government agencies. And given that the company both owns an underlying patent for, and integrated into its devices’ VPN client, a cryptographic algorithm believed vulnerable to surreptitious government spying it’s not enough to simply refuse to comment on why, and the extent to which, BlackBerry is compelled to help governments spy on its customer base.
We know that BlackBerry has been legally and politically bludgeoned into developing, implementing, and providing training courses on intercepting and censoring communications sent over its network. At the same time, we know that many employees at BlackBerry genuinely care about developing secure products and delivering them to the world; reliable, secure, and productive communications products are ostensibly the lifeblood that keeps the company afloat. So why, knowing what we know about the company’s ethos and the surveillance compulsions it has faced in the past, is it so unwilling to be honest with its current and prospective enterprise customers and develop transparency reports: for fear that customers would flee the company upon realizing the extent to which BlackBerry communications are accessed or monitored by governments, because of gag-orders they’ve agreed to in order to sell products in less-democratic nations, or just because they hold their customers is contempt?