Blackberry functions to be banned in two Gulf states

Two Gulf states have
announced bans on some functions of the Blackberry mobile phone, claiming
security concerns.

The United Arab Emirates is
to block sending emails, accessing the internet, and delivering instant
messages to other Blackberry handsets.

Saudi Arabia is to prevent
the use of the Blackberry to Blackberry instant messaging service.

Both nations are unhappy
that they are unable to monitor such communications via the handsets.

This is because the
Blackberry handsets automatically send the encrypted data to computer servers
outside of the two countries.

The UAE ban is to start in
October, while the Saudi move will begin later this month.

Abdulrahman Mazi, a board
member of state-controlled Saudi Telecom, has admitted that the decision is
intended to put pressure on Blackberry’s Canadian owner, Research in Motion
(RIM), to release data from users’ communications “when needed”.

The UAE’s telecoms
regulator, TRA, said the lack of compliance with local laws raised “judicial,
social and national security concerns”.

RIM has yet to comment on
either case.

There are an estimated
500,000 Blackberry users in the UAE, and 400,000 in Saudi Arabia.

TRA said some Blackberry
services would be suspended from 11 October “until a solution compatible with
local laws is reached”.

“It’s a final decision but
we are continuing discussions with them,” said TRA director general Mohammed

“Censorship has got nothing
to do with this. What we are talking about is suspension due to the lack of
compliance with UAE telecommunications regulations.”

It follows an alleged
attempt by TRA last year to install spyware on Blackberry handsets.

And in 2007 RIM refused TRA
access to the code for RIM’s encrypted networks so it could monitor email and
other data.

Power play?

Media freedom watchdog
Reporters Without Borders told the BBC last week that while the UAE was playing
a “technological leadership role in the Arab world”, this was backed by
“repressive laws” and a “general trend of intensified surveillance”.

BBC Middle East business
reporter Ben Thompson said the threat by the UAE was likely an attempt to wring
concessions out of RIM.

“Many here see this as
little more than a power play from the UAE authorities – an attempt to force
RIM to handover the security codes or face losing a lucrative market,” he said.

India has also raised
security concerns over Blackberry data services, saying they could be exploited
by militants.

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