Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor turned whistleblower, has spoken out about mobile firm BlackBerry, claiming that its stance on privacy and cosy relationships with government spy agencies is why it would "be erased from the pages of history".
Snowden, who was just granted extended asylum in Russia, is well-known around the world for leaking troves of internal NSA documentation in 2013 that detailed the vast surveillance apparatus used by multiple signals intelligence (Sigint) agencies, including Britain's GCHQ.
He was speaking during a Canadian technology conference on Wednesday (18 January 2017), in reference to last year's revelation that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) had obtained access to BlackBerry's "global encryption key" to decode communications at will.
Snowden linked this case to the experience of Apple, which was recently locked into a high-profile clash with the FBI over a court-order demanding it circumvent the encryption on an iPhone 5C gathered from the possessions of an Islamic State(Isis)-linked terrorist.
"You can end up standing up for what is right, you have to trust that even if it is digital, if you take a principled stand that that will do more good not just for your bottom line or country, but for your society and future," said Snowden, as reported by BetaKit, a partner of the tech conference.
He added: "This is why [BlackBerry is] going to be erased from the pages of history. Apple is a very successful company, particularly as they make this pivot towards enforcing quite publicly the privacy rights. Ultimately, we're not talking about privacy, we're talking about the quality of society."
Last year, less than a week after BlackBerry was criticised in the press, particularly Vice News, the mobile firm's chief executive John Chen issued a statement. He claimed: "BlackBerry's guiding principle has been to do what is right for the citizenry."
In his keynote, which was live-streamed from an unknown location in Russia, Snowden rubbished this position. He said: "[BlackBerry] follow the AT&T model, which is that the customer is not really the customer – the state is the customer. That's the only person they really have to please."
In November last year, it was revealed that AT&T has close links to the US government's intelligence agencies, especially the NSA. Top secret diagrams leaked by The Intercept showed the highly secretive referenced the firm as an "access partner."
The New York Times, in September 2013, exposed how an NSA-led operation called Project Hemisphere was conducted in partnership with AT&T and used to give drug agents access to vast swathes of communication records of everyday American citizens.
In a broader sense, Snowden's stance on personal privacy has not softened in the years since his first disclosures – quite the opposite. "The stipulation [is that] if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. What this is encouraging is to live a life in a vulnerable state," he said.
"To expose yourself to the depredations of an outside group to scrutinise how you live, what you think, what your ideas are as long as what you do is OK by them," he continued. "This misunderstands what rights are about and what privacy is about.
"Privacy isn't about something to hide, it's about something to protect."