Research In Motion Ltd’s BlackBerry device will be studied by University of Toronto computer scientists to determine how the smartphone’s data traffic is handled in countries where governments have tried to track it.
The project was prompted by what the university’s Citizen Lab said is a need to monitor the activities of companies that “own and operate cyberspace, particularly as they come under increasing pressure to cooperate with governments on national surveillance and censorship laws, policies and requests,” according to a statement on its website.
RIM has had to work this year with regulators in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and India, which threatened to block the BlackBerry amid concern that the device’s encrypted services might be used for terrorist attacks and illegal actions.
RIM averted a ban in Saudi Arabia in August and in the United Arab Emirates on October 8.
India’s government has twice postponed planned shutdowns of BlackBerry service and on October 12 gave Waterloo, Ontario based RIM until the end of the year to come up with a solution to allow security agencies to monitor BlackBerry data.
In the release, the study’s organizers said: “Decisions taken by private sector actors, often at the behest of governments seeking access to their data or assistance blocking websites, can have major consequences for human rights.”
They said: “These decisions can lack transparency and public accountability,” and added: “this project is meant to address that lack of transparency."
RIM said at the time of the UAE decision that it follows the principles for working with government officials it laid out in an August 12 statement and wouldn’t comment further.
RIM said in that statement it doesn’t do “special deals for specific countries,” adding that the security of its corporate email system hasn’t changed.
RIM has also said it cannot help governments access the email systems of corporate customers because those companies hold the encryption keys to those servers, not RIM.
Marisa Conway, a spokeswoman for RIM, didn’t immediately reply to a message seeking comment on the Citizen Lab study.
Citizen Lab is teaming to perform the research with Information Warfare Monitor, a venture between the university and SecDev Group, an Ottawa based think tank focused on security issues.
The lab helped uncover a cyber espionage plot against India’s government earlier this year that involved computers in China.
RIM rose 2 cents to $49.10 at 4 pm New York time in Nasdaq Stock Market trading. The stock has dropped 27 percent this year.
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