Canadian police have been in possession of a BlackBerry’s global decryption key since 2010, reports Vice. The site says recently released court documents reveal that the key was used in a criminal investigation to intercept over 1 million BBM messages.
The documents were made public after members of a Montreal crime syndicate pleaded guilty to their role in a 2011 murder, and they shine some light on the extent that BlackBerry, as well as telco giant Rogers, is willing to cooperate with investigators.
According to technical reports by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that were filed in court, law enforcement intercepted and decrypted roughly one million PIN-to-PIN BlackBerry messages in connection with the probe. The report doesn’t disclose exactly where the key — effectively a piece of code that could break the encryption on virtually any BlackBerry message sent from one device to another — came from. But, as one police officer put it, it was a key that could unlock millions of doors.
Government lawyers spent almost two years fighting in a Montreal courtroom to keep this information out of the public record.
Of course this story is extremely relevant right now, with encryption and privacy being very hot topics. And it may even help Apple in its fight with the FBI, as it offers an example of how giving the government a way around encryption can get out of hand.
And if the global key is still sitting on a server in the RCMP’s headquarters, the potential consequences could be significant. Although it wouldn’t offer police a backdoor into most of its government and business clients, who make up BlackBerry’s core constituency, it would mean that police enjoyed years of access to Canadians’ personal cellphones without the public being any the wiser.