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Use your Blackberry to map global surveillance

The University of Toronto's Citizen Lab has announced a research project to analyze the global infrastructure of Research In Motion, maker of the BlackBerry. It's looking for BlackBerry users from any country to take part--especially those in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, India, Indonesia, Russia and China.

All of these countries have at some point demanded that RIM make their BlackBerry network more surveillance-friendly. Some have threatened to ban BlackBerry services outright if their demands are not met. Other reports suggest that RIM has made concessions to some of these countries' demands.

One possible concession RIM might make is to move its Blackberry Internet Service (BIS) servers to locations within those countries' jurisdictions. BIS servers are the bridges between the internal BlackBerry network and the wider Internet. A locally-hosted BIS server would make it easier for domestic security services to monitor BlackBerry users' general Web traffic.

RIM has kept quiet about what agreements, if any, it has made with any government. Nevertheless, it is theoretically possible to work out the location of these BIS servers externally. If you're a journalist who uses a BlackBerry, all you have to do to help with this project is to visit the RimCheck website using your BlackBerry device and fill out a short form. The site will record the IP address of the machine your request comes from, and will attempt to determine where in the world that server could be located.

The conclusions that the RIM Check project draws from this study will be published when the group has collected enough data. Concrete statistics like this will mean we'll finally be able to see if BlackBerry's send their data exclusively through Canadian servers as some believe or whether RIM has distributed these servers globally--potentially allowing users' unencrypted Net traffic to be as monitorable as that sent through a local Internet service provider.

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