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RIM says it doesn't share BlackBerry data; Saudi Arabia prepares to block service

Updated 10:20 p.m.

Under growing global pressure from governments seeking wider access to the communications of its BlackBerry customers, Research in Motion said Tuesday that it does not share data on the users of its mobile devices.

The statement came hours after Saudi Arabia said it would suspend local BlackBerry services starting Friday because the service did not meet its local telecom regulatory requirements, according to state-run Saudi Press Agency.

The Saudi move follows steps announced Sunday by the United Arab Emirates, which said it would block certain data applications for 500,000 local BlackBerry users because the country needed to access user data for national security purposes. RIM has also been in discussions with India and China, which have pressured the company for access to customer data.

Some media reports have indicated concessions, but the company tried Tuesday to assure customers that it does not share such information. "Customers of the Blackberry enterprise solution can maintain confidence in the integrity of the security architecture without fear of compromise," Ontario-based RIM said in a statement.

The smartphone maker said in its statement that its security requirements for BlackBerry users intentionally prevent third parties and even RIM from reading encrypted information since the firm does not store or have access to the encrypted data.

"RIM cannot accommodate any request for a copy of a customer’s encryption key, since at no time does RIM, or any wireless network operator or any third party, ever possess a copy of the key." RIM said. "This means that customers of the BlackBerry enterprise solution can maintain confidence in the integrity of the security architecture without fear of compromise."

The firm would not comment beyond its prepared statement. And it was unclear if all users in UAE were enterprise customers or use a different platform of BlackBerry applications.

But experts said the company faces a dilemma in that it wants a global presence -- it currently operates in 175 countries -- but many governments feel uneasy when communications systems are operated through remote servers that are beyond their control. John Palfrey, a professor of Internet law at Harvard Law School said governments in the Middle East/North Africa, parts of East Asia, and former Soviet States have a tradition of state-run media control.

"In all these areas, where you see regulation, technology is growing quickly and disruptively and in ways where the state reacts by banning things first and then having conversations later," Palfrey said.

The statement comes amid speculation that the RIM may be negotiating with the United Arab Emirates to hand over data to authorities. Speculation has been rife that the firm has already offered concessions to India and China. The Emirates government said the company's refusal to provide access to user data for national security purposes violates its local telecommunications law. In response, the country said it would ban instant messaging, e-mail and Internet browsing as of Oct. 11.

RIM said the enterprise solution for its BlackBerry is standardized around the world. "Any claims that we provide, or have ever provided, something unique to the government of one country that we have not offered to the governments of all countries, are unfounded," RIM said in its statement.

By Cecilia Kang  |  August 3, 2010; 6:20 PM ET
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Ignorant fanaticism and high-tech don't mix.

Posted by: jethro1 | August 4, 2010 6:18 AM | Report abuse

not what I read somewhere! US agencies may have access to traffic! however to allow ME Arab States access is suicide for RIM!also goes for China.

Posted by: murray1 | August 4, 2010 7:36 AM | Report abuse

UAE and Saudi Arabia being Islamic states want to keep track of all communications within their jurisdiction. Given the fact that the state controls the media, it's no surprise that the governments of both countries want RIM to disclose confidential data. RIM should not give in to these demands as it will cost them great customer loyalty.

Posted by: ashguy110 | August 4, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Looks like Blackberry will bite the dust sooner now with all these controversy.

Apple Iphone has no competition as far as the horizon and beyond.

Posted by: ChiekEr | August 4, 2010 10:29 AM | Report abuse

I can see it now. A wealthy UAE family visits Paris, Munich, Geneva and wife(s) #1 and #2 and various daughters buy cute BB's - back in the sandbox, they chat out of reach of "male relatives or husbands" furious husband calls in some favors and together with a bunch of others - gets these things banned under rubric of security regulations. It is beyond laughable to aver that regional regs there are anything but plastic and applied ala carte *ahem*

Posted by: | August 4, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

They refer to the security of Enterprise systems, nothing to do w/ users who don't connect through a BlackBerry Enterprise Server. That would be a lot, if not most, non-commercial users.

Posted by: BEEPEE | August 4, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Bravo to RIM!! Stay the course and don't give in.

Posted by: vinnieboombots | August 4, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse

They are both right - Blackberry as well as Indian Security. It seems that the Mumbai Attack was co-ordinated with Blackberry Messenger. Some devices were found on the bodies of the terrorists. Because of the encrypted nature, nothing was known to the Indian security. Devices would have probably been procured in the UAE, because of its open business environment and easy low-cost access to technology. Sitting on the fence watching terrorists kill hundreds of innocent people, is wrong, especially if your company's product was used to facilitate it. Because BB could hide the data, the plot was able to get thru. BB must help find a suitable solution, that is the least they can do. I love my BB when I go out of UAE, and I do not have any reasonable cost alternative outside UAE. Well?

Posted by: johnaudie | August 4, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

When I worked in Saudi Arabia thirty years ago, men with scissors and magic markers went through every copy of every magazine (Time, for example) that came into the country, cutting out content they didn't like, marking out objectionable words ("sex," "pork," "Jewish" "Israel"), and scribbling over any female cleavage in the ads. I'm sure it will be those same men censoring the email. Like so many things these days, this is not about terror, it is about control.

Posted by: tknepher | August 4, 2010 7:58 PM | Report abuse

If a country authority requires spying citizen communications for national security and there are laws allowing it, RIM could give them access to customer data encrypted but they can not give the de-encryption tokens because only customer know them. In this way authorities are responsible for spying activities (including data de-encryption) and RIM complies with customer agreements.

Posted by: ahilesva | August 5, 2010 10:42 PM | Report abuse

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