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.
August 3, 2010; 6:20 PM ET
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