BARCELONA // BlackBerry has taken a middle line on Apple’s privacy dispute with the US government, insisting on the need to comply with law enforcement agencies while insisting that it does not provide back-door solutions into its software and devices.
Apple has refused to create specialised software that would let the FBI rapidly test random passcode combinations to try to unlock an iPhone that belonged to Syed Farook, who, together with his wife, killed 14 people and wounded 22 during a shooting spree in San Bernardino in California in December.
The BlackBerry chief operating officer Marty Beard declined to comment directly on the Apple dispute at a press conference at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) on Wednesday, saying that the Canadian company had complied with requests from authorities previously, but insisted that it would not provide back-door solutions to government authorities.
“We almost left Pakistan recently because we were asked to provide a back door, which we do not do,” Mr Beard said. “On the other hand we comply with legal requests where it makes sense, and we’ve always done that.”
BlackBerry said in November that it would withdraw from Pakistan, after refusing to comply with government demands for access to its BlackBerry Enterprise Services emails and BBM chats. The company reversed its decision last month, after government authorities relented in their demands.
Mr Beard declined to comment on whether BlackBerry could or would decrypt an encrypted Priv, its most recent smartphone, if asked to by law enforcement agencies.
“The powers that be need to find ways to catch criminals, paedophiles and terrorists that don’t reduce our freedoms, because if our privacy is taken away from us then the bad guys have won,” said the UK-based security expert Graham Cluley. “It’s clear that the FBI want the courts to set a precedent, which would effectively mean no more unbreakable locks. I think it’s acceptable that we might not be able to catch every criminal, if it means we can preserve our liberty.”
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chairman and chief executive said this week in Barcelona that he was “sympathetic” with Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, in the dispute. “I don’t think that requiring back doors to encryption is either going to be an effective thing to increase security or is really the right thing to do. We are pretty sympathetic to Tim and Apple,” he told delegates in his keynote speech on Monday.
“At the same time we feel we have a really big responsibility running this big networking community to help prevent terrorism and different types of attacks. If we have opportunities to basically work with the government to make sure there are not terrorist attacks, obviously we are going to take those opportunities.”
Microsoft’s co-founder Bill Gates, meanwhile, has sided with the US government in the dispute.
“This is a specific case where the government is asking for access to information,” Mr Gates was quoted as saying in the Financial Times newspaper published on Tuesday. “It is no different than [the question of] should anybody ever have been able to tell the phone company to get information, should anybody be able to get at bank records.”
* with additional reporting by agencies
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