U.A.E. Set to Ban BlackBerry Services?

The United Arab Emirates is reportedly set to ban BlackBerry e-mail, instant messaging and Web browsing services in the country starting Oct. 11. According to the Wall Street Journal and several other news reports, the ban was issued by the country's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) on Sunday and will not affect voice and text-messaging services.

The U.A.E. objects to BlackBerry maker Research in Motion's (NASDAQ: RIMM) use of Network Operations Centers (NOCs) in different parts of the world to process and encrypt e-mail and Web traffic, which makes it difficult to monitor users' electronic communications, a practice the government says is an integral piece of its security activities.

"BlackBerry data is immediately exported offshore, where it's managed by a foreign, commercial organization. BlackBerry data services are currently the only data services operating in the U.A.E. where this is the case," the TRA said. "Today's decision is based on the fact that, in their current form, certain BlackBerry services allow users to act without any legal accountability, causing judicial, social and national-security concerns."

The TRA also said it has been trying to resolve the issue with RIM since 2007. RIM has about 500,000 U.A.E.-based BlackBerry clients, according to the Journal report.

RIM declined to directly address the U.A.E.'s announcement, but issued a statement touting the strength of its security architecture and noting that it operates in more than 175 countries.

"RIM respects both the regulatory requirements of government and the security and privacy needs of corporations and consumers," the company told InternetNews.com in an e-mail. "RIM does not disclose confidential regulatory discussions that take place with any government, however RIM assures its customers that it is committed to continue delivering highly secure and innovative products that satisfy the needs of both customers and governments."

Ovum analyst Tim Renowden said the U.A.E. announcement will likely become part of a wider debate around government monitoring and filtering of telecommunications and the Internet that has deep implications for privacy -- both personal and corporate -- as well as freedom of speech and national security.

"The loss of access to the U.A.E. market will upset BlackBerry customers and international business travelers in the region, but RIM looks likely maintain its current stance and avoid damage to its reputation in the much larger North American and Western European markets," Renowden said in a statement.

"The difficulty for RIM is that security has been a key selling point for BlackBerry and acquiescing to government demands would significantly undermine its security credentials, particularly with business and public sector customers," he added. "There are legitimate reasons for wanting data encryption and privacy -- and there is a concern that if RIM compromises with one government then others will demand the same access."

Separately, RIM is expected to unveil the latest member of the BlackBerry smartphone line and a new version 6 of the BlackBerry operating system at an event in New York Tuesday.

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

TAGS:

security, Blackberry, smartphone, RIM, U.A.E.

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