Dear Chief Executive John Chen and Chief Operating Officer Marty Beard,
We applaud your decision to stand up for the right to privacy of users in Pakistan by pledging to leave the market because of government demands for direct access to your servers. As international organizations that advocate for privacy and freedom of expression online, we urge you to continue to respect the privacy of users and push back on government requests in Pakistan and around the world. Your leadership will provide a model for tech and telecom companies in the region and beyond, and will contribute to our efforts to increase respect for digital rights in Pakistan.
When law enforcement or security services enjoy direct access to telecommunications networks and servers, they can bypass safeguards that help secure our data and protect our human rights. Direct access leaves all of us — from politicians to human rights defenders — less secure.
Left unchecked, agents of the state can violate due process and procedural fairness guaranteed by competent judicial authorities. When it operates behind a veil of secrecy, law enforcement with unfettered access to our data cannot be held accountable either by the courts or the public.
Moreover, the private internet providers who own and operate telecom networks have a duty to respect human rights, and to prevent and mitigate violations. When police have direct access to their networks and servers, providers cannot scrutinize government requests for adherence to procedural and human rights standards. Providers lose their ability to control access to their networks, and cannot notify affected users when there is unlawful or arbitrary access to their personal information.
International experts agree that secret surveillance powers facilitate the violation of privacy and other human rights. In 2014, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, condemned “de facto coercion of private sector companies to provide sweeping access to information and data relating to private individuals without the latter’s knowledge or consent.” Without notice, targets of surveillance cannot contest the interference with their right to privacy in court or find remedy for violations.
For these reasons, we are glad to see BlackBerry’s firm stance against direct access, and your recent statement that “we do not support ‘back doors’ granting open access to our customers’ information and have never done this anywhere in the world.”
But we believe you can do more.
We urge you to extend this leadership on privacy in favor of a more safe and enabling environment across your business operations, including India. You can take a few basic steps to improve your practices, such as:
- releasing transparency reports on government requests for user data and content restrictions;
- committing to reject and publish any requests to shut down, throttle, or otherwise allow government control over your networks;
- demanding that any requests for user data be supported by a valid, written court order that strictly complies with domestic and international law; and
- extending end-to-end encryption to all BlackBerry communications products and services.
We recommend the Ranking Digital Rights project’s Corporate Accountability Index as a resource for you to identify more ways to lead in human rights commitments and practice.
In the context of Pakistan, we add one urgent recommendation:
- use your voice to oppose the harmful drafted cybercrime bill, the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015 (PECB).
Under Section 38 of the PECB, for instance, the Pakistani government can share the personal data of any user to “any foreign Government, 24 x 7 network, any foreign agency or any international organization or agency” upon request, without the consent or knowledge of the users themselves. We strongly recommend that Pakistani policy makers in the National Assembly revise the proposal and other legislation negatively impacting human rights defenders to bring it in line with international human rights law and standards.
We understand Pakistan extended your deadline until the end of the year, and that you may be in talks with the government. You should hold true to your principles, and remain committed to human rights and due process. We ask that you be transparent about the negotiations, and we will stand by to support and engage with you in that process.
We again thank you for your strong stance in favor of privacy and fundamental rights, and we offer our assistance in helping you establish further protections in Pakistan and elsewhere. We are available to meet at your earliest convenience.
Access Now (Global)
Association for Progressive Communications (Global)
Centre for Communication Governance (India)
Digital Rights Foundation (Pakistan)
Electronic Frontier Foundation (US)
Freedom Network (Pakistan)
International Service for Human Rights (Global)
Media Matters for Democracy (Pakistan)
Privacy International (Global)
Unwanted Witness (Uganda)