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RIM BlackBerry Data Studied Amid Government Pressure

RIM BlackBerry Data Studied Amid Government Pressure
RIM has had to work this year with regulators in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and India, which threatened to block the BlackBerry amid concern that the device’s encrypted services might be used for terrorist attacks and illegal actions. Photographer: Jonathan Gainer/Bloomberg

Oct. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry device will be studied by University of Toronto computer scientists to determine how the smartphone’s data traffic is handled in countries where governments have tried to track it.

The project was prompted by what the university’s Citizen Lab said is a need to monitor the activities of companies that “own and operate cyberspace, particularly as they come under increasing pressure to cooperate with governments on national surveillance and censorship laws, policies and requests,” according to a statement on its website.

RIM has had to work this year with regulators in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and India, which threatened to block the BlackBerry amid concern that the device’s encrypted services might be used for terrorist attacks and illegal actions. RIM averted a ban in Saudi Arabia in August and in the United Arab Emirates on Oct. 8.

India’s government has twice postponed planned shutdowns of BlackBerry service and on Oct. 12 gave Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM until the end of the year to come up with a solution to allow security agencies to monitor BlackBerry data.

“Decisions taken by private-sector actors, often at the behest of governments seeking access to their data or assistance blocking websites, can have major consequences for human rights,” the study’s organizers said in the release. “These decisions can lack transparency and public accountability.”

“This project is meant to address that lack of transparency,” they said.

No ‘Special Deals’

RIM said at the time of the United Arab Emirates decision that it follows the principles for working with government officials it laid out in an Aug. 12 statement and wouldn’t comment further. RIM said in that statement it doesn’t do “special deals for specific countries,” adding that the security of its corporate e-mail system hasn’t changed.

RIM has also said it cannot help governments access the e-mail systems of corporate customers because those companies hold the encryption keys to those servers, not RIM.

Marisa Conway, a spokeswoman for RIM, didn’t immediately reply to a message seeking comment on the Citizen Lab study.

Citizen Lab is teaming to perform the research with Information Warfare Monitor, a venture between the university and SecDev Group, an Ottawa-based think tank focused on security issues. The lab helped uncover a cyber-espionage plot against India’s government earlier this year that involved computers in China.

RIM rose 2 cents to $49.10 at 4 p.m. New York time in Nasdaq Stock Market trading. The stock has dropped 27 percent this year.

To contact the reporters on this story: Hugo Miller in Toronto at hugomiller@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Elstrom at pelstrom@bloomberg.net.

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