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Instant Analysis: BlackBerry CEO John Chen Says Criminals Don't Deserve Privacy

By Evan Niu, CFA – Dec 16, 2015 at 9:00AM

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BlackBerry wants to balance user privacy with legitimate access requests from law enforcement officials.

What happened?
BlackBerry (BB 2.00%) CEO John Chen has published a new blog post on the company's site, chiming in on "The Encryption Debate" as it relates to user privacy and law enforcement. Chen notes that Facebook's WhatsApp and Telegram have recently been implicated as terrorist tools due to the privacy features, underscoring the importance of this conversation.

The executive says that BlackBerry is in "a unique position" to help balance the two sides, granting users heightened privacy but still acknowledging the legitimate needs of law enforcement to access user data should it help prevent criminal activity. Chen makes his stance clear: "However, our privacy commitment does not extend to criminals."

Chen even goes a step further, calling out Apple (AAPL 3.71%) specifically (although not by name) for its resistance to access requests from law enforcement. Apple recently told a federal judge that it was unable to help unlock any iPhone running iOS 8 or later, even if a search warrant is obtained.

Does it matter?
Ironically, Apple has similarly wielded privacy as its own weapon against Alphabet's Google. But Apple has aggressively positioned its privacy strategy at the polar opposite end of the spectrum as Google, which is why it draws criticism from frustrated federal law enforcement officials.

Apple has made its encryption standards so tough that it maintains not even it can help extract certain types of data, including iMessages. The Mac maker has attempted to make this a key point of differentiation for its devices. But now BlackBerry is trying to take the middle ground and call out the weaknesses in Apple's strategy. It's almost as if BlackBerry is rushing to the defense of its newfound operating system partner.

BlackBerry's brand has long been predicated on increased security and privacy, so it's no surprise that Chen is reiterating the company's stance in the current political climate. Chen's statements alone won't change much, as he is mostly stating the obvious. What will really matter, however, is whether or not this commitment to balance will translate into Priv sales.

Evan Niu, CFA owns shares of Apple and Facebook. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Apple, and Facebook. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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