LONDON: BlackBerry’s Canadian manufacturer should give law enforcement agencies around the world access to its customer data, the UN technology chief said, adding that governments have legitimate security concerns that should not be ignored.
Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union, said officials fighting terrorism had the right to demand access to users’ information from the maker of the BlackBerry — Research in Motion Ltd.
“Those are genuine requests,” he told The Associated Press in an interview. “There is a need for co-operation between governments and the private sector on security issues.”
RIM is embroiled in parallel disputes with at least five countries — India, Indonesia, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates — over concerns that the smartphone’s powerful encryption technology could be used as a cover for terrorism or criminal activity.
Civil libertarians have argued that the controversy is fuelled by authoritarian governments’ frustration over their inability to eavesdrop on BlackBerry-using citizens.
Blackberry service is designed from the ground up for secure communications. RIM says that though it complies with all legal requests for data — such as phone logs — even it is unable to provide anyone with the text of e-mail messages sent by people using its corporate service.
Governments in the United States and Europe have largely made their peace with encryption technology, but officials in Asia and the Middle East have demanded that RIM modify its practices to allow them wholesale access to BlackBerry e-mail mesages as they’re being transmitted.
Yesterday, Indian officials widened their security crackdown, asking all companies that provide encrypted communications — not just RIM — to install servers in the country to make it easier for the government to obtain users’ data. That could potentially draw companies such as Skype and Google into the flap.
RIM has effectively thrown up its hands, saying the way the Blackberry system is designed prevents anyone except its clients from decrypting communications. The impasse has sent the company’s share price plummeting.
A company representative in London did not immediately respond yesterday to a request for comment on Toure’s remarks.
Toure’s organisation is responsible for co-ordinating the use of the global radio spectrum, promoting international co-operation in assigning satellite orbits, and establishing standards for the telecommunications industry. The body also serves as a global forum for discussion of cutting-edge communications issues.
The agency has no independent regulatory power, but Toure’s comments are a barometer of sentiment among the agency’s 192 member states, which are expected to re-elect him to a second term later this year.
Toure was in the British capital to drum up private investment for an effort to spread broadband coverage across the globe.
He has argued that hooking developing countries up with high-speed Internet access can have huge additional benefits, boosting education, business, health care and other issues.
Toure has gathered business and political leaders to form a Broadband Commission for Digital Development, a high-profile group devoted to lobbying governments for broadband-friendly regulations. The commission delivers its report to the United Nations later this month.
In the interview, Toure also fielded questions about network neutrality and allegations of Iranian interference with foreign satellite broadcasts.
Toure declined to explicitly say whether he backed network neutrality, the principle that Internet service providers should treat all Internet traffic equally.
Some service providers argue that, having invested billions on their networks, they should be allowed to manage Internet traffic as they see fit — for example, by giving priority to their own content, preventing applications such as filesharing from hogging bandwidth, or creating premium services that charge more for faster access.
Toure expressed opposition to attempts to create a two-tier Internet with fast and slow lanes, telling companies they should focus on “ensuring that the best quality signal is offered to anyone, including your competitors.” — AP
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