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Blackberry vs. World: Tech Freedom?

The Blackberry saga. The businessman’s handheld organizer is facing the heat from intelligences bosses worldwide. High tech vs. high security. Plus, Net neutrality and the Google-Verizon proposal.

A BlackBerry user displays a text message sent by his service provider notifying him of the suspension of services, at a mobile shop in Dubai, Aug. 5, 2010 (AP)

Around the world, national security, government control, and high technology do a wary dance in our era. Center stage right now – the Blackberry – the potent little handheld device that tethers so many businesspeople around the planet to their work.

Blackberry communications are highly encrypted. Governments don’t like that. Some say it can abet terrorists.

In recent weeks, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, India and more have threatened to shut down the Blackberry party in their countries. We examine the Blackberry saga and the debate — high tech versus high security.

Plus, later on, we look at Net neutrality and the Google-Verizon proposal that has raised eyebrows.

-Tom Ashbrook


Matt Hartley, technology reporter for the Financial Post (Toronto, Canada).

Jonathan Zittrain, professor of law and computer science at Harvard University, where he’s founder and director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society. He’s author of “The Future of the Internet — and How to Stop It.” You can hear his On Point interview on that book and also listen to his take on cloud computing.

Richard Falkenrath, former National Security Council staffer and Homeland Security official under President George W. Bush and ex-Deputy Commissioner of Counter-Terrorism of the New York City Police Department. He’s now a principal with the Chertoff Group, a security consulting firm. You can read his Op-Ed in the New York Times, “Texting with Terrorists.”

Peter Suderman, columnist and associate editor at Reason magazine and Reason.com. His column last week was titled “No More Net Neutrality?”

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  • Joshua Hendrickson

    Falkenrath writes:

    “…governmental intrusion into ostensibly private communications offends liberal sensibilities. But in the end, it is governments, not private industry, that rule the airwaves and the Internet. The Emirates acted understandably and appropriately: governments should not be timid about using their full powers to ensure that their law enforcement and intelligence agencies are able to keep their citizens safe.”

    You’re right it offends liberal sensibilities! No one should rule the airwaves or the internet. Safety and security are always the excuse totalitarians invoke to expand their power. Freedom, not security, is all that matters, because the latter without the former is evil.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    I wonder what Randy Cohen’s take on these issues would be because similar although less far reaching issues were raised during Betsy’s interview with him, like monitoring his daughter’s facebook account because he might for her safety.

    I trust the onPoint staff to moderate (and edit) this comment thread and willingly participate here knowing that I can say what I like as long as I adhere to their guidelines. I don’t find that “totalitarian” although one could say that the reason they do it is to make these threads “safer and more secure.”

    Both of these examples could go terribly wrong and it’s up to the moderator to “not be evil.” I trust onPoint and Randy Cohen to not be evil, I don’t trust corporations who are beholden to stockholders or governments with idiots running them who think the internet is a series of tubes (no doubt others besides the late Ted Stevens think this).

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Whoops, “because he might fear for her safety.”

  • Zeno

    “The privacy and dignity of our citizens are being whittled away by sometimes imperceptible steps. Taken individually, each step may be of little consequence. But when viewed as a whole, there begins to emerge a society quite unlike any we have seen — a society in which government may intrude into the secret regions of a person’s life.” – Justice William O. Douglas

    “The real danger is the gradual erosion of individual liberties through automation, integration, and interconnection of many small, separate record-keeping systems, each of which alone may seem innocuous, even benevolent, and wholly justifiable.” – U.S. Privacy Study Commission

    “But when no risk is taken, there is no freedom. It is thus that, in an industrial society, the plethora of laws made for our personal safety convert the land into a nursery, and policemen hired to protect us become self-serving busybodies.” -Alan Watts

    “The multiple human needs and desires that demand privacy among two or more people in the midst of social life must inevitably lead to cryptology wherever men thrive and wherever they write.” – David Kahn

    “When cryptography is outlawed, bayl bhgynjf jvyy unir cevinpl!” – Brad Templeton

  • jeffe

    I hope On Point deems the floods in Pakistan a worthy topic. It’s turning into one of the worse natural disasters on record with over 20 million people homeless!
    20 million people, lets put that into perspective: that would be more than the entire population of New England.

    This could be a huge problem for this region and it might be the end of the current government in Pakistan and it might be the beginning of an era of prolonged destabilization in the region.


  • yar

    In the US, encryption is controlled as a munition as far as exports are concerned. I wonder if the second amendment might come into play for the right to have and bear arms in order to protect from government control of secure communication uses. I would love to see the NRA and the geeks of silicon valley team up to fight for the right to keep our conversations away from the eyes and ears of the private contractors who work for the military industrial complex.
    Not likely to happen; those NRA types have too much in common with those in military power.
    Once some statistician proves through historical data that stock market swings are being influenced because of data mining authorized and sanctioned by our government will people wake up and take the notice of just how public our lives have become.
    A cell phone has about as much privacy as a citizens band radio.
    What happens when electronic storage gets cheap enough (it may already be there) to store every packet transaction made?

  • Sasha Drugihk

    Simple question: Can US authorities spy on its citizens without a court order? Does RIM protect its US customers from this illegal practice, or cave in like everyone else?

  • Brandstad

    Who is on the other end of Obama’s blackberry? Does anyone remember when the national security agents told him that he couldn’t use it because of security reasons…. Obama won and now has his own special one. Who does Obama communicate with on his blackberry? Will the presidential records act open the communications records for his blackberry in time?

  • Ed Cobb

    So why not require disclosure of communications only with a valid court order?

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Before we paint Saudi Arabia, India, et al, as primitive consider that the state of Mississippi took Fresh Air off the air (for a while, it’s back) because Terri Gross used the word “orgasm” and the head of Public Broadcasting didn’t think Mississipians needed to hear that word on the radio.

  • Greg Camp

    Western corporations need to develop a backbone and stand up to these repressive and backward nations. We must offer a choice: Join us in the twenty-first century, which includes personal liberty and privacy–and we’ll welcome you with open markets. Otherwise, don’t call us for any reason.

  • Gordon

    I think that, when we talk about ceding privacy to the government, we need to remember that, in the US, most of this work is actually being done by private contractors.

    Private contractors have fundamentally different allegiances than government employees. What’s to prevent private companies from using this access to steal trade secrets of competitors, or to undermine or humiliate advocates of policies that are contrary to their corporate interests?

  • Margie Stern

    Please remind Mr. Ashbrook that Blackberries are not only used by “Business MEN”
    Thank You, Margie Stern

  • Greg Camp

    No, Mr. Falkenrath, privacy is not a right that governments give their citizens. Privacy is a natural right that we have by existing. Governments may recognize that right and take steps to protect it, and some violate that right, but they cannot determine what right we have.

  • Rob

    Although we disagree on most issues, I agree with Jeffe’s post and find it appalling that these massive floods in Pakistan are being largely ignored by the US media(and our government to date). This is not only a humanitarian crisis, but could have huge security implications for the US and our allies to the extent it further destabalizes Pakistan. This topic worthy is far more attention that it has received to date

  • Joe H

    When did we decide that it’s the government’s right to track all of our personal communication. I think, if the USA government of the Dubai government wants to track personal communication, then they should be able to get a warrant and Blackberry would need to comply. But, just assuming that the government needs to know and follow all of my personal communication is basicaly opening us open to a 21st century inquisition. Everyone, eventually, is guilty. And, maybe your neighbor wants to tuirn you in to the Staasi. Half the world’s population lived through these horrors throughout the 20th century and now, to keep ourselves “safe”, we are inviting this type of totalatarion control.

  • ThresherK

    Western corporations need to develop a backbone and stand up to these repressive and backward nations. We must offer a choice: Join us in the twenty-first century, which includes personal liberty and privacy

    I wish that situation could happen. However, I think there are no “Western” corporations any more, sure as the label on the shirt on your back. And the confluence of personal liberty and modern mega-corporate success (in which everything a corporation succeeds at is retroactively deemed “free market”) is shaky at best.

  • Joe H

    edit: …USA government “OR” the Dubai government….

  • Zeno

    If spying and listening in on communications were to protect the public, then Sept, 11th would never have happened right? Wrong, they had all of the information and let it happen anyway.

  • DaveW

    Great topic. Essentially, we have a company that is selling a protection of privacy to its customers that is greater than the guarantee of privacy offered by some of its customers’ governments! But is this really a new situation? Didn’t every communications technology present a challenge to repressive governments? Phones. Radios. TVs. PCs. Why is this one any different?

  • Greg Camp

    I’m not suggesting that Western countries or corporations are perfect. Unfortunately, many such entities that ought to know better have broken basic principles that define who we are. Still, individualism is fundamental to Western culture, and privacy is necessary for being an individual.

    Regarding the multinational corporations, we have been warned for millennia about what happens when money becomes the highest value. We need to be fully human first, otherwise money will buy us nothing that is worthwhile.

  • Kayelle

    Yesterday I downloaded a full HD 1080p film to our DirecTV DVR. Not a huge thing, there’s hundreds of them available for download.

    The thing is that only a few years ago we were being by the big content providers that this would be impossible. We were told that we had to abandon net neutrality because streaming video over the internet couldn’t be done with a neutral net. But it could be done and the success of on demand video from netflix, hulu, and other sites proves it.

    This is nothing more than a big money grab.

  • Kayelle

    Just FYI for the ill informed guest: I own a kindle, I can go wherever I want on the internet, subject only to the limitations of the kindle’s screen.

  • michael

    Wow undemocratic and corp shills, nice one onpoint, even agreeing with Saudi A. is trobling in itself.

    “Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.” … “We will bankrupt ourselves in pursuit of absolute security”.

  • Michelle B.

    This is chasing a red herring. Preventing terrorism is only possible by making cultural changes so that terrorism cannot take root in the fertile soil of peoples’ minds. Educate, enrich, empower!

  • michael

    A study being released Monday documents an arms race that’s escalating among business groups, trial lawyers and unions. They’re all competing to raise money to put their favorite candidates on the bench.
    The report from the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice, Justice at Stake, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics, says that so much money is pouring into state judicial races from outside groups that it’s beginning to undermine public confidence in the courts


    Could onpoint do a story on the above and how people are trying to buy out judges and appoint(like the republicans like to call it) “Activist judges” and one’s beholden to such groups above the law.

  • http://www.onpointradio.org/about-on-point/sam-gale-rosen Sam Gale Rosen

    Michael, that will be our first hour tomorrow.

  • michael

    “Michael, that will be our first hour tomorrow”

    Thank :)

  • Oliver

    The proposal from Google and Verizon is pure evil.

    Lets start with our current situation:
    * Currently, ISPs do NOT deliver Internet access. They already down grade the Internet to a “consumer” version, which “allows” the consumer to only consume the Internet but not to operate its own servers, http, mail, etc. On top of that ISPs regularly deploy arbitrary, unjust restrictions like not sending any e-mail to more than X users. And they don’t even tell you what that number X is. So calling that the Internet is a joke to begin with.
    * Net neutrality is an absolute must if we (the people, as in consumers and innovators) want to benefit from it’s power. If the “middle men” (ISP) is permitted to cripple the Internet consumption at its own desire, there is little left in freedom or innovation.
    * And ISPs for the most part did use the government provided rights of way to establish the cables to our homes, so it has a right to regulate such usage as it is in the public interest. Let not forget, ISPs are mostly the cable TV companies and the Telcos, which build their networks on the rights they gt granted for TV and Telephone.

    * Lets pick a little on the Google/Verizon proposal. It uses the phrase “any lawful content” to please the powerful media giants assembled in the RIAA. However, it is non of the ISPs business to determine which Bits are lawful. As a matter of fact it can’t. Because in the sense of copyright law, it might be lawful for the current owner to transmit certain content, but not for the bootlegger who copied the content. Also the right to copy can be assigned (licensed) in any shape, way or form. So someone might license a certain content to distribute to medical doctors only or to the purchasers of some other content or to people living in Canada. How is an ISP to determine if sender and recipient are in compliance with the terms of the copyright? So, such provisions are nothing but loopholes to allow ISPs to justify their blocking and manipulations as they please.
    * By the way, what is it the business of two industry giants to make a “compromise” proposal? Isn’t that the role of congress? Especially, what good is this if both parties in the “compromise” are on the same side of wringing business value out of the regulation, which is almost always on the opposite side of freedom (for the people).

    I could go on with dozens more of issues of how the debate is very much on the wrong foot and how the interests of the party that needs protection are neither discussed not re-presented.

  • Information Security

    Indeed an interesting issue. Businesses are obliged to keep their data protected for their customers or they could face lawsuits. Perhaps the businesses that don’t like the loss of security will be hesitant to do business in these countries who are stripping away their privacy rights via the blackberry or likewise. Privacy is necessary for many business operations. I am thinking of a situation where there is a database of many individual’s personal financial information; only the business needs access to that database and in that I don’t think any government is reasonable in asking for encryption keys, they are making the industry vulnerable. Blackberry has a commitment to it’s customers, not governments.

  • John Myers

    About the second part of the show (net neutrality), it sounds like Verizon is wanting to get paid for not just the hookup to the internet (subscriber fees), but they want to also create a market by tweaking internet content – do I understand this right? They would take in subscription fees and on top of that take in money for adding content? I’m fuzzy on this subject.

  • Kenneth

    Many governments consider commercial/economic power
    as part of their national security.
    By such viewpoints governments have used their
    spy appratus go give their economy and companies,
    especially ‘national companies’ a commercial
    See industrial espionage.
    See spying oin a company’s bid plans to beat them
    or if they are bidding a proposal from a government
    to give the government an advantage.
    A very sparse list of countries that have done
    this is: China, Russia, and France.

  • http://www.ifdown.net Sam Gibson

    Net neutrality has very little to do with the discussion that occurred during the course of the second segment. Sadly, the program’s panelists did a tremendously poor job staying on point. In fact, the principle of net neutrality was poorly defined at the start of the discussion and never fully formalized, which I suspect led to the disjoint.

    Net neutrality has absolutely nothing to do with giving everyone equal speed online. The fact that Mr. Suderman described it as such reveals his ignorance of the issue. A normal home user doesn’t have the same needs that IBM, Google, Microsoft, or the federal government; and they never will! There’s nothing wrong with this. The big players in the internet market pay more for their bandwidth and speed because they take up more of the infrastructure’s resources. This is not unfair, nor is it against the principles of net neutrality.

    One of the core principles of net neutrality, is the idea that when I pay for an internet connection that says “1.5 Mbps down / 256 Kbps up” that’s precisely what I’m paying for and the ISP should not be able to say “Well, 1.5 Mbps when you download email, but if you’re downloading music, then we’re going to slow you down to 512 Kbps”. Just as the Post Office can’t — without due process — open my mail and read its contents to determine if it needs to be delivered faster, ISP’s shouldn’t be allowed to inspect my data and determine whether some needs to be delivered faster than others — how can they know my requirements?

    The second fundamental misunderstanding by Mr. Suderman is that restrictive markets like the iPhone app store, or the Android mobile store, or the Kindle book store in some way violate net neutrality. This is not the issue. There’s nothing wrong with ISPs providing value added services like this, and in fact I encourage them to do so (though incidentally neither of these services are run by ISPs). What would be wrong is if an ISP created, for example, their own video website akin to Youtube and then de-prioritized traffic to Youtube while prioritizing the traffic to their own video site.

    Mr. Suderman also seems to think that devices which programmatically restrict access to certain parts of the web by design are something the FCC would have to waste time regulating on a one-off basis. Wrong again. A device like the Kindle (which does provide access to the entire internet, despite Mr. Suderman’s assertions) has nothing to do with network neutrality because it’s not providing the infrastructure for the network. This third principle is that when I pay for network access, I should be able to attach any device of my choosing to the network. That doesn’t many that every device that connects to the network has to provide access to the entire thing. If you don’t like that particular device, you’re free to connect a different one.

    Incidentally, Mr. Suderman is also wrong about the price of the “free” 3G access being built into the Kindle, and he’s wrong about Amazon providing the 3G access. Amazon leases their 3G access from (I believe, though I’m not positive) AT&T and their affiliates worldwide. The cost of the 3G access (which is paid for by Amazon, but not provided by them) is made up under the assumption that universal access to purchasing, via the Amazon store, will result in more purchases offsetting the cost.

    The common complaint by ISPs is that their infrastructure won’t be able to keep up with the increasing bandwidth needs. This has proven false time and time again. What I, and many others, feel is the way telecommunications providers should be regulated is when I pay for a service, provide me with that service. If your network can’t handle what you yourself promised me when you sold it, then either upgrade your network or stop overselling it.

    Finally it should be noted that the recent controversy isn’t so much about net neutrality, because currently there are current no regulations that establish net neutrality. Instead, the controversy is focused more around Google’s shift from being a hard line proponent of network neutrality to this seeming kow-towing to the telecom industry now that they have a stake (via the Android operating system) in the market. It’s hypocritical and goes against their corporate ethics and image.

    (apologies for the lack of brevity)

    Sam Gibson

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