Research in Motion may as well rest in peace. The most powerful feature of its Blackberry phone is being banned in UAE, Saudi Arabia and India. The feature is the encrypted email and SMS being sent to a server of choice. It is different from many public-domain webmail and SMS services which transmit data unencrypted.
Blackberry’s push-mail service, together with the secure transmission, has an edge over many smartphone competitors which just use the Internet public network. Many corporations and even the US president use Blackberry. Despite its small display screen and lack of functions, it still has a place in the market.
It is very interesting to see the development of the data privacy issue nowadays. We all want transparency of information. We want to know what is going on around us, to the extent that we even claim the right to information as a human right. Any attempt to withhold information is seen as unethical. Any cover up by any organizations, or individuals, on the truth of anything will be seen as a cardinal sin. This is being used by the press as the spear as well as the shield in exposing information for a living.
On the other hand, we want to guard our own information. We also claim that keeping our personal information secret is a human right. The recent news coverage on the Octopus has created a phobia that our personal data are being made known to many. I think from now on, it will be more difficult for the salesmen on the street to get any personal data by disguising as surveys, interviews, discount offers, and even charities.
The lesson of the Blackberry reveals a reality: That all governments want to know what is in your mind. This is a marked difference from the Google China case where the government wants you not to know something. Censorship on communication exists everywhere and in many forms, some on security issues, some on moral issues, and some on political issues. They all boil down to the same action. You may call these the trinity of censorship. The Blackberry case is such reality in reverse. Governments, as well as many organizations with an intention, are already acquainted with what is in our mind. The US Government openly admits that she monitors telecommunication including telephone voice and the Internet traffic. She has a huge operation and uses complex filtering technology to catch any mention of certain keywords, and could follow-up accordingly. I presume many governments are doing the same. So when UAE, Saudi Arabia and India found out that they are inconvenienced by the encrypted information in the intercepted Blackberry traffic, actions are taken to stop such service. Personal data privacy is an illusion.
I read from some commentaries in the news that people in Hong Kong do not have much concern on their personal data privacy; that citizens think the leak of personal data would only lead to a few more mail advertisements or telephone calls; that the real issue is actually the violation of human right and the rule of law. In fact, exchange of personal data is a normal activity in a society. We often exchange name cards, and give our personal information in order to obtain personalized services. People very often give out personal data of others in good intention, such as references to friends, potential employers, schools, and also, mark this shifting dividing line, to insurance companies, salesmen of valuable services, etc. It is a matter of self interest whether such disclosure may do you good or disturb you.
Besides the case of personal data privacy, or any data privacy for that matter, the Blackberry case has a far reaching effect on information technology. The processing, transmission and storage of data are also subject to such struggle: convenience vs privacy of information. It has a direct impact on the latest development of cloud computing. You may wish to read a more detailed description of cloud computing I wrote in 2008. In short, the crux of cloud computing is just like the Blackberry traffic, that encrypted information is stored in the Internet instead of your computer. There are now many such services for you to connect to an offsite server through the Internet for data backup, virtual drive, or offsite computing. Since its inception some years ago, cloud computing is now taking off with the improvement of availability, i.e. fast and always-on Internet connection, and improvement of data security. Seen from the Blackberry case, the security issue could be compromised. The latest moves of Research in Motion and Google seem to suggest that companies are yielding to the pressure of governments in opening up private communication for monitoring and allowing censorship on Internet access. The only protected communication may only exist in virtual private networks. In the mean time, we need to bear in mind that what we are communicating could be monitored by others.