The Washington Post
Memo to French Officials: Beware the BlackBerry
PARIS, June 20 — In an age of terrorism and corporate espionage, French intelligence officials have identified a security threat lurking in the pockets and purses of government officials: the BlackBerry.
Just as the hand-held communications device is starting to catch on in Europe, the French General Secretariat for National Defense has banned the use of BlackBerrys inside the presidential palace and government ministries, according to the daily newspaper Le Monde. The government order reportedly extended an earlier 18-month-old ban.
Who does France believe might be snooping on ministerial messages?
Answer: The U.S. National Security Agency, according to the country’s most authoritative newspaper. After all, it reported, BlackBerry data are routed through servers in the United States and its closest ally, Britain.
“The risks of interception are real,” the newspaper quoted Alain Juillet, head of the government’s economic intelligence unit, as saying. Some government workers are skeptical. “Just when we thought France was entering the modern age of technology, the government bureaucrats snatched it away and sent us back to passing handwritten notes,” groused an employee of the Defense Ministry who asked not to be named for fear of agitating her security-sensitive boss. “Next they’ll be confiscating our cellphones.”
Le Monde quoted an unnamed employee in the prime minister’s office who said a substitute device offered by the government performed so poorly that many ministerial workers have taken their BlackBerrys undercover and continue to use them covertly.
A spokesman in the office of Prime Minister François Fillon declined to comment on the government decision or the Le Monde report.
Though the BlackBerry is far more popular in the workaholic United States than in France — a country whose citizens are fiercely protective of their short workweeks and long vacations — the hand-held communicators are becoming an increasingly common fixture among business executives, lawyers and other professionals, including government bureaucrats and politicians.
The government order reflects poorly on the promises of Orange France, a telecommunications company that began offering BlackBerry service three years ago.
“For our business customers, access on the move to their corporate emails is becoming just as important as making and receiving calls,” Jean Marie Culpin, an Orange France vice president, said in a news release announcing the new service in 2004. “Our business customers will now enjoy the largest choice of easy to use and secure access to their information.”
An Orange France spokesman said Wednesday that the company had no comment on the government’s decision to banish the BlackBerry from the corridors and offices of government because of security concerns. The spokesman, however, pleaded not to be named declining to comment. Researcher Corinne Gavard contributed to this report.