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Research in Motion

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In 2010, Research in Motion’s BlackBerry offered its corporate clients the ultimate in smartphone security. All messages were encrypted before leaving the device and then were routed through a series of Network Operating Centers located in Canada. This made it difficult for government officials or private parties to eavesdrop on Blackberry calls, texts, or e-mails.

Sound security was one of the strategic advantages of the BlackBerry over other wireless devices. Customers were confident that their sensitive communications could be kept private anywhere in the world. As a result, the BlackBerry was the device of choice for military and other government, medical, and corporate clients.

However, some governments were concerned about BlackBerry’s security features, claiming that they made it difficult for them to protect their citizens from criminals and terrorists, particularly after the Al Qaeda attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, and the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, in 2008. In the past, law enforcement and intelligence agencies that wanted to monitor the communications of suspected criminals could perform a wiretap on a landline phone, or they could intercept the mail.

In early August 2010, this tension between privacy and national security came to the fore after regulators in the United Arab Emirates threatened RIM: either provide a way for the UAE government to monitor the communications of BlackBerry smartphone users, or the UAE would cut off all BlackBerry service beginning October 11. The stated rationale for the request was to intercept terrorists and other criminals, but there was reason to believe that the UAE also wanted the capability to crack down on political dissidents.

RIM had some tough choices to make as it tried to decide how to respond to the increasingly strident government demands, especially from countries that did not necessarily possess the same respect for human rights as Canada. What would be the cost of tailoring its service country by country? Could RIM afford to lose its business in developing markets, such as UAE and India? How would RIM’s customers throughout the world react if RIM compromised the security they had come to expect? The Apple iPhone and Google Android were in hot pursuit of BlackBerry customers, and RIM could not afford a misstep.

Published Date: 07/04/2011

Suggested Citation: Constance E. Bagley, Sally Gunz, and Andrea Nagy Smith, "Research in Motion," Yale SOM Case 11-011, April 7, 2011.

Keywords: Blackberry, Canada, Security, UAE