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Former NSA attorney blames Blackberry’s demise on encryption

Former NSA attorney blames Blackberry’s demise on encryption
​The former top lawyer to the NSA told an audience in Ireland this week that mobile phone maker Blackberry can blame a major drop in sales during the last few years on its offering of a secure product that can’t be cracked.

A big selling point for Blackberry, at least among those working with sensitive data, was the fact that the company’s propriety messaging program allowed users to securely communicate with one another over an encrypted protocol that for years provided security beyond what other cell companies offered consumers.

Yet while tech experts largely agree that the smart phone giant saw its demise in recent years result from unprecedented competition coming from the likes of devices like Apple’s iPhone and Android phones running Google’s innovative operating system — a decrescendo well documented by tech bloggers, without a doubt — Stewart Baker, the former general counsel at the National Security Agency, had a different explanation on Tuesday this week at the Web Summit in Dublin.

In the midst of efforts from both Apple and Google in recent months to provide customers with extra secure cell phones — supposedly devices that, in theory, can’t be cracked by law enforcement — Baker blamed a similar feature on the downfall of Blackberry at this week’s event and warned today’s tech giants to reconsider what they want to offer consumers.

"BlackBerry pioneered the same business model that Google and Apple are doing now. That has not ended well for BlackBerry," Baker told Guardian editor James Ball.

"They restricted their own ability to sell," Baker added, according to ZDnet. "We have a tendency to think that once the cyberwar is won in the US that that is the end of it — but that is the easiest war to swim."

AFP Photo / Thomas Samson

As RT has reported previously, Apple and Google’s desire to offer better encryption on their devices than before has already earned those companies that admiration of privacy advocates, but anything but praise from police and law enforcement officials that insist extra secure communication will kill authorities’ ability to eavesdrop in emergencies, like terrorism investigations.

"There will come a day -- well it comes every day in this business -- when it will matter a great, great deal to the lives of people of all kinds that we be able to with judicial authorization gain access to a kidnapper's or a terrorist or a criminal's device,” FBI Director James Comey argued last month.“I just want to make sure we have a good conversation in this country before that day comes.”

According to recent remarks from Baker, who served as NSA general counsel from 1992 to 1994, efforts from Apple and Google to give customers penultimate privacy are misguided. “Tech companies are picking a big public fight with the NSA because it looks good, as opposed to changing the ability of government to get data,” he said.

“There’s a very comfortable techno-libertarian culture where you think you’re doing the right thing,” he told Ball. “But I’ve worked with these companies and as soon as they get a law enforcement request no matter how liberal or enlightened they think they are, sooner to later they find some crime that is so loathsome they will do anything to find that person and identify them so they can be punished.”

Others, however, have already called into question Baker’s explanation about Blackberry’s demise. “While it's true that some countries, like India, demanded the right to spy on Blackberry devices, the idea that this was the reason for the company's downfall is ludicrous,” Techdirt blogger Mike Masnick wrote on Wednesday this week, adding, “the reason that Blackberry failed was because the company just couldn't keep up from an innovation standpoint -- and that's because early on it made the decision to focus on enforcing patents, rather than truly innovating.”

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