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8/6/2010
11:06 AM
Bob Evans
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Global CIO: Blackberry CEO Should Tell Saudi Arabia To Pound Sand

Saudi Arabia's demand to be granted unencrypted access to Blackberry messages should be met with this unencrypted recommendation: drop dead.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, India (India??), and other countries are threatening to ban Blackberries unless parent company Research In Motion lets them monitor communications among Blackberry users. After his "fiery interview" with the Wall Street Journal, I hope CEO Mike Lazaridis tells the Saudis and others that the main message they need to monitor is this: go pound sand.

From the Journal news story:

"RIM is being pressured by authorities in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, India and other countries to provide greater access to the encrypted information sent by its devices. Saudi Arabia has ordered its cellphone providers to halt BlackBerry service beginning Friday. The U.A.E. has set a ban starting in October, though the government said it is open to discussions.

"In a fiery interview," the article continues, "the RIM co-founder said the devices are being unfairly singled out by foreign officials trying to score political points. The dispute puts at risk a key market in RIM's growing international business, but backing down could undermine a reputation for tight security that has made BlackBerry the default choice for corporations and governments around the world."

It was heartening to see that Lazaridis, in the face of such heavy-handed pressure, was pushing back hard against such oppressive and intrusive measures by saying, "This is about the Internet. 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."

Well said, Mike!

It's not like they're asking you to kick in some money to help fund high-speed networks or to improve the foreign-language translation tools on the devices. Rather, this demand for RIM to roll over completely on customer privacy strikes at the heart of the entire value proposition that RIM and its Blackberries offer to tens of millions of business customers across the globe.

While I was not surprised to see such draconian measures being demanded by a country like Saudi Arabia, whose monarchy exerts extremely tight control over all major industries and businesses, I was stunned to see that India was among the countries clamoring for deep and dangerous involvement in the private sector.

India is the world's largest democracy and home to a spectacularly successful community of entrepreneurs, innovators, and big-business powerhouses, and it didn't achieve that status or become one of the world's fastest-growing economies by touting such short-sighted and counterproductive policies.

But in this age of global terrorism and its deadly threats, do governments have a right to expect some level of cooperation from the companies—like RIM—that play vital links in the global communications network? I think they do have that right—and more important, so does Lazaridis per the Journal article:

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"Although Mr. Lazaridis said RIM wouldn't compromise the security of its products," the article said, "he acknowledged the company would have to cooperate with authorities if handed a court order to do a lawful intercept of a person's communications.

" 'I would give them the encrypted stream,' he said. 'It would have to be like a wiretap.' "

As you accelerate your global mobile strategies, you should definitely take a close look at this valuable—and scary—article. And let RIM know they have your full support against this outrageous incursion into the private sector.

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GlobalCIO Bob Evans is senior VP and director of InformationWeek's Global CIO unit.

To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page.

For more Global CIO perspectives, check out Global CIO,
or write to Bob at bevans@techweb.com.

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