Edward Snowden criticizes BlackBerry for its stance on privacy

The Cantech 2017 Investment Conference in Toronto featured an interview with American Edward Snowden, well-known for his role in exposing the scope of the National Security Agency’s global surveillance programs.

Over video conference, Snowden spoke with Round 13 Capital managing partner and The Disruptors co-host, Bruce Croxon, on a wide range of subjects, including what it means for the government to have access to private data on a mass scale, and the role corporations play in protecting their customers’ data.

“Ultimately, we’re not talking about privacy, we’re talking about the quality of society”

“The stipulation [is that] if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. What this is encouraging is to live a life in a vulnerable state. To expose yourself to the depredations of an outside group to scrutinize how you live, what you think, what your ideas are as long as what you do is okay by them,” said Snowden. “This misunderstands what rights are about and what privacy is about. Privacy isn’t about something to hide, it’s about something to protect.”

Snowden called out a number of companies, such as AT&T, for its role in helping the government obtain customer data in exchange for regulatory benefits. When asked about former Canadian tech giant BlackBerry by Croxon, Snowden called the company out for its public claims of security.

Last year, it was reported by Vice Canada that the RCMP has had backdoor access BBM since at least 2010, and decrypted more than one million messages.

Snowden claimed that while BlackBerry has tried to obscure its role in cooperating with government requests in North America, the company also cooperates in other markets, including India.

“India said ‘we’ll cut your market access unless you unlock these communications that we want for investigations that are going through your enterprise service, and BlackBerry says ‘okay’,” said Snowden. “They follow the AT&T model which is that the customer is not really the customer, the state is the customer. That’s the only person they really have to please.”

Snowden’s comments come shortly after BlackBerry’s signed partnership with Rudy Giuliani’s security consulting firm, Giuliani Partners, to use BlackBerry’s Secure platform in support of government and enterprise customers. Giuliani, recently named a cybersecurity advisor in the Trump administration, has been criticized for his own alleged lack of cybersecurity knowledge.

“They [BlackBerry] follow the AT&T model which is that the customer is not really the customer, the state is the customer”

The Waterloo company has also opened a Washington, DC-based security innovation centre, which BlackBerry CEO John Chen said will “serve as a hub for collaboration with key government customers and other expert partners.”

During the interview, Snowden contrasted BlackBerry’s approach with Apple’s stance on protecting its customers’ privacy, despite, as Snowden said, being accused by government officials of “helping terrorists” in the past, notably following the San Bernadino shooter, where the company refused to hand over data from one shooter’s iPhone.

“You can end up standing up for what is right, you have to trust that even if it is digital, if you take a principled stand that that will do more good not just for your bottom line or country, but for your society and future,” said Snowden.

Snowden had harsher words for BlackBerry on its cooperation with the government agencies: “This is why they’re going to be erased from the pages of history. Apple is a very successful company, particularly as they make this pivot toward enforcing quite publicly the privacy rights. Ultimately, we’re not talking about privacy, we’re talking about the quality of society.”

This post was originally published on BetaKit.

Image Credit: Ezra Chang