KARACHI: Although Pakistan Telecomm-unication Authority (PTA) denies stopping Blackberry services on January 31, evidence suggests that it actually sent letters to mobile phone operating companies asking them to block the services. However, PTA immediately withdrew the order as the news broke and pressure mounted.
A notice, sent to a mobile operator, clearly shows that the regulator restricted cellular companies from offering a slew of Blackberry services in the country because of security concerns.
When The Express Tribune contacted PTA spokesperson, he said that PTA had already responded to the issue and refused to comment further. A PTA press release said that it had not issued any directions to mobile service providers for restricting Blackberry Services. It added that the operators have been advised to continue providing Blackberry services to the users.
However, the recent document reveals that PTA had asked mobile operators to suspend Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES) services in Pakistan. It also asked that services to foreign embassies, missions and high commissions in Pakistan be suspended along with data services to international roamers using Blackberry/push mail-enabled handsets.
The letter said that some mobile operators are flouting PTA’s authority by continuing to offer such Blackberry services. It adds that the companies should ensure compliance and send a compliance report to PTA. BES is the service that connects users to messaging and collaboration software such as Microsoft Exchange on enterprise networks. It redirects emails and synchronises contacts between servers and mobile devices. Typically, a chunk of the data being exchanged is encrypted so that it cannot be read by your inquisitive friends, your curious wife and definitely not your government.
An official of the British Embassy said that his blackberry was working and so were the blackberries of all diplomats that he knew. “We do not know if blackberry services were actually suspended.”
Another embassy official said “there were rumours that services will be shut and we were worried because we use our BBs to instantly read our emails and messages.” He said that the embassies had gotten together and intervened, making an arrangement with the government. The arrangement, they said, was supposed to be permanent but that they were unsure if it would continue.
However, an official from another embassy stated “services have been restored to our Blackberries due to what I heard was pressure from mobile operators.” It seems that services were indeed terminated for a little while and then restored.
Not the first government to have a problem
Pakistan’s government is not the first to have an issue with Blackberry services. The same issue had earlier erupted in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and India. Apparently, the governments had demanded access to data on Research In Motion’s (RIM) secure enterprise network. This data would have allowed governments to monitor communications over the blackberry network, something they have presumably unable to do due to the encryption used by the company.
But RIM has been sticking to its guns and keeps insisting that it will not provide the data that the government wants. Industry experts said that this also raised the question what other private data the government has access to. They said that this probably means that currently the mobile operators and the PTA did not have the ability to monitor voice and text communication of BlackBerry subscribers.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 13th, 2011.
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