BlackBerry defends giving police access to phone messages

The company says it stood by its principles while helping law enforcement take down organized crime. It also seems to take a swing at Apple.

Laura Hautala
Laura Hautala
Laura Hautala
Laura Hautala Senior Writer

Laura writes about e-commerce and Amazon, and she occasionally covers cool science topics. Previously, she broke down cybersecurity and privacy issues for CNET readers. Laura is based in Tacoma, Wash. and was into sourdough before the pandemic.

Expertise E-commerce, Amazon, earned wage access, online marketplaces, direct to consumer, unions, labor and employment, supply chain, cybersecurity, privacy, stalkerware, hacking. Credentials 2022 Eddie award for a single article in consumer technology

BlackBerry isn't above the "greater good," says CEO John Chen.


When it came time to help the Royal Mounted Canadian Police take down an organized crime ring, BlackBerry was game.

The Canadian phone maker helped police access BlackBerry messages with a key that decrypts, or unscrambles, communications sent from one phone to another, according to reports from Vice. It's essentially the encryption backdoor that companies like Apple have said they don't want to create.

"The case resulted in a major criminal organization being dismantled," said John Chen, BlackBerry's CEO and executive chairman, in a blog post published Monday. "Regarding BlackBerry's assistance, I can reaffirm that we stood by our lawful access principles."

BlackBerry declined to comment further when asked to confirm Vice's account of its participation in the law enforcement investigation, including whether police still have access to the backdoor it reportedly used to intercept and decrypt incriminating messages. Vice reported that backdoor could affect millions of phones.

Messages sent from corporate cell phones can't be decrypted, Chen added. Those phones are connected to the BlackBerry Enterprise Server, which Chen called "impenetrable."

Apple has insisted that creating universal workarounds to its phones' encryption would make all its users vulnerable to hacking. Critics, including the US Department of Justice, have said Apple is spinning the contentious issue of encryption into marketing for its products. Chen seemed to echo these sentiments in his blog post.

"I have stated before that we are indeed in a dark place when companies put their reputations above the greater good," he said.