Steve Jobs called RIM out on security two years ago

First the United Arab Emirates, then Saudi Arabia and now India. All three countries have complained about the NOCs (Network Operations Centers) Research in Motion uses to manage email and website traffic for users of its BlackBerry smartphones.

Government officials at all three countries complain the NOC system prevents them from [monitoring BlackBerry communications for security threats]( RIM is reportedly negotiating with Saudi Arabia to have a NOC installed in the country to accommodate the government there, but it’s not clear RIM is able or willing to negotiate similar deals with other countries and, contrary to the speculation about Saudi Arabia, says it won’t do “special deals” with any country.

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There is a certain irony that RIM would be challenged on security, albeit not for the BlackBerry itself, since the popular smartphones have long been the favorite of IT staffs for their enterprise-friendly security and integration features. The only other challenge to RIM’s security that I can recall in recent years was made by none other than Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Back in March, 2008, Jobs made a point of commenting on RIM as part of the company’s rollout of its [iPhone for the enterprise strategy](/mobility/article.php/3732581).

“Why aren’t CIOs really worried about security? Every email message sent to or from a RIM device, goes through a NOC up in Canada,” said Jobs. “Now, that provides a single point of failure, but it also provides a very interesting security situation. Where someone working up at that NOC could potentially be having a look at your email. Nobody seems to be focused on that. We certainly are.”

Of course Jobs’ speculation — that some rogue RIM employee could sneak a peek at some corporate executive’s private correspondence — is exactly what these government’s want RIM to allow, i.e. let their police and secret service scan email traffic for any sign of criminal activity. I’m guessing the definition of criminal activity in some of these countries could include things like organizing a rally for free speech or women’s right, but that’s a topic for another blog.

**RIM weighs in**

Yesterday RIM issued the following statement that indicates it’s not going to cut any special deals.

“Although RIM cannot disclose confidential regulatory discussions that take place with any government, RIM assures its customers that it genuinely tries to be as cooperative as possible with governments in the spirit of supporting legal and national security requirements, while also preserving the lawful needs of citizens and corporations. RIM has drawn a firm line by insisting that any capabilities it provides to carriers for “lawful” access purposes be limited by four main principles:

1) The carriers’ capabilities be limited to the strict context of lawful access and national security requirements as governed by the country’s judicial oversight and rules of law.

2) The carriers’ capabilities must be technology and vendor neutral, allowing no greater access to BlackBerry consumer services than the carriers and regulators already impose on RIM’s competitors and other similar communications technology companies.

3) No changes to the security architecture for BlackBerry Enterprise Server customer since, contrary to any rumors, the security architecture is the same around the world and RIM truly has no ability to provide its customers’ encryption keys. Also driving RIM’s position is the fact that strong encryption is a fundamental commercial requirement for any country to attract and maintain international business anyway and similarly strong encryption is currently used pervasively in traditional VPNs on both wired and wireless networks in order to protect corporate and government communications.

4) RIM maintains a consistent global standard for lawful access requirements that does not include special deals for specific countries.”

**Porn-free smartphones?**

Meanwhile, Kit Eaton over at Fast Company, speculates that RIM’s tussle with these governments could be [a boon for the iPhone](, which also has tighter restrictions on applications.

“Apple’s already shown it’s not afraid to bend to potentially uncomfortable (from a Western point of view) requests from governments in order to acquire new businesses, and it’s plausible it would acquiesce to UAE concerns about security worries,” Eaton said, noting an agreement Apple made late last year to [censor iPhone apps ]( relate to the Dalai Lama in China.

“Jobs has also frequently stated his objections to porno uses of his iPhone and iPad platforms (in direct conflict with how many users and sex industry companies want to use the phone, but what the heck) so any requests to ban access to porn via iPhone would probably fall on listening ears,” said Eaton.

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