BlackBerry taking ‘balanced’ approach to encryption, lawful intercept

Company believes in working with law enforcement to make court ordered surveillance of its devices possible, says COO

BlackBerry believes in a “balanced” approach to encryption, incorporating lawful intercept capabilities, and the company prioritizes cooperation with law enforcement, Chief Operating Officer Marty Beard said Tuesday.

“We very much take a balanced approach” to the issue of encryption, he told the FedTalks government IT summit, differentiating Blackberry’s approach from that of some of their competitors who are “all about encryption all the way.”

BlackBerry products have traditionally been widely regarded as more secure than their competitors’. The company does have a history of close cooperation with law enforcement in many of the jurisdictions where it operates.

“Zero knowledge” encryption, where even the company providing the digital communication or storage service cannot unscramble encrypted messages or data without the subscriber’s key, has been the subject of a reinvigorated debate since terrorists were able to plan and carry out a complex series of coordinated, near simultaneous attacks in Paris last week — apparently without leaving a digital footprint that could be tracked by intelligence services.

Chief Operating Officer Marty Beard

Chief Operating Officer Marty Beard

U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials have seized on the attacks there to relaunch their campaign for mandatory inclusion of backdoors into encrypted communications and data storage services sold in the U.S.

Critics say that backdoors, even those supposedly available only to court authorized law enforcement agencies, undermine the integrity and security of encrypted communications. Terrorists, they say, will merely resort to using non-U.S. products, and other countries will begin to demand access to U.S. backdoors as authorized by their own court systems.

Later in the week, BlackBerry issued a statement to clarify that its support for working with law enforcement did not extend to advocating the introduction of backdoors.

“Encryption is very important to protect governments, business and individuals from hacking,’ read the statement emailed to FedScoop by a BlackBerry PR executive. ‘At the same time, no one wants to see terrorists and criminals taking advantage of encryption to evade detection. That’s why we have always strongly supported law enforcement around the world when they need our help. While we do not support so-called ‘back-doors,’ we and every other tech company bears a responsibility to do all we can to help governments protect their citizens.”


This story has been updated to include BlackBerry’s clarification.

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Shaun Waterman

Written by Shaun Waterman

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