RIM CEO castigates countries over BlackBerry ban

Co-CEO Michael Lazaridis tells off foreign governments that want to block the BlackBerry, while the company faces new resistance in Indonesia and Lebanon.

"If they can't deal with the Internet, they should shut it off."

Research In Motion

That was just one of the comments that RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis made in an interview published Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal. In the interview, Lazaridis repeatedly took aim at the countries looking to ban the BlackBerry over what they are labeling national security issues. The governments want the ability to access and monitor customer communications.

"This is about the Internet," Lazaridis told the Journal. "Everything on the Internet is encrypted. This is not a BlackBerry-only issue. If they can't deal with the Internet, they should shut it off."

Based in Canada, RIM has been under fire by several foreign governments over complaints that the BlackBerry network is too secure, preventing them from monitoring--or some would say spying on--customer data in the name of national security. In response, RIM has stated that the information on its network is encrypted and that no one, not even the company itself, can access it or disclose the encryption key.

The United Arab Emirates asserts that with the encryption, the BlackBerry violates its telecommunications regulations. As a result, it announced this week plans to block key BlackBerry services starting October 11.

Saudia Arabia has also entered the fray with plans to turn off the tap on the BlackBerry as of Friday. And Lebanon announced Thursday that it, too, will be assessing the BlackBerry in the name of national security.

The issue leaves RIM walking a difficult tightrope, facing the threat of losing significant business overseas or standing firm on its mission to provide secure communications to its corporate customers.

In the Journal interview, Lazaridis said that the BlackBerry is being targeted by foreign officials looking to curry political points and that they may need to be educated on how the Internet and the BlackBerry work.

"We are going to continue to work with them to make sure they understand the reality of the Internet," he told the Journal. "A lot of these people don't have Ph.Ds, and they don't have a degree in computer science."

Beyond the Middle East, the company is attempting to deal with India, which has also been threatening to shut down BlackBerry services for security reasons. Indian officials have expressed concern that militants could use the BlackBerry network to communicate, leaving the government with no way to monitor or intercept those messages.

Reports had surfaced Tuesday that RIM was ready to provide the Indian government with access to monitor its network, but the company quickly denied that. A story in Wednesday's Times of India reported that the two parties appear to be in a stalemate, though Reuters and other sources say talks are continuing with hopes for a resolution.

And finally, Indonesia has joined the growing list of countries concerned about the BlackBerry network. Although Indonesian officials said they have no plans to ban the service at this point, they have been pressing RIM to set up a data center in the region to help monitor local communications, according to Bloomberg and the official Web site of the Indonesian Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (Google Translate's English version).

Despite the ongoing conflicts, Lazaridis said he is hopeful that RIM can work out some type of agreement with the various foreign governments.

"We have dealt with this before," Lazaridis told the Journal. "This will get resolved. And it will get resolved if there is a chance for rational discussion."

 

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