Open letter to BlackBerry applauds rejecting backdoors in Pakistan, urges more action to protect human rights

Companies should follow BlackBerry’s lead, adopt practices that respect human rights

Pakistan – Today a coalition of digital rights groups in Pakistan and across the globe delivered an open letter to BlackBerry to applaud the company’s decision to withdraw from the market in Pakistan rather than give the government direct, backdoor access to users’ data.

The coalition also detailed a number of other ways that BlackBerry and other companies can take action to respect human rights. These recommendations include, for businesses in Pakistan, speaking out against a harmful draft cybercrime bill, the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015 (PECB).

International experts agree that secret surveillance powers facilitate the violation of privacy and other human rights,” reads the letter.

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.”

The letter notes that 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, these providers cannot scrutinize government requests to make sure they adhere to procedural and human rights standards.

In addition to refusing to provide direct, backdoor access to users’ data, BlackBerry can make key changes to its policies and procedures to protect their rights, the coalition asserts. These include:

  • 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.

And finally, in the context of Pakistan,

  • using 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,” the letter cites.

Signers of the open letter are: 

Access Now (Global)

Association for Progressive Communications (Global)

BoloBhi (Pakistan)

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)

You can read the open letter here.


Media contact

Peter Micek, Global Policy & Legal Counsel, Access Now

[email protected]

1-888-414-0100 x709


Nighat Dad, Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan

[email protected]