UAE bans BlackBerry amid global scrutiny of Internet use
The United Arab Emirates said Sunday it will suspend BlackBerry services because the device doesn't comply with local telecom regulations. But advocates of global Internet freedom said the move appears to be an attempt to crack open and monitor communications technology as the use of mobile phones explodes in countries accustomed to controlling what information gets to its citizens.
BlackBerry smart phones, manufactured by Ontario-based Research in Motion, have gained global popularity for their secure encryption technology that appeals particularly to business users. In the UAE, which has a reported 500,000 BlackBerry users, that presents challenges for the government, which can’t access information on remote servers or crack security software, experts said. The UAE said that encryption technology has interfered with national security efforts.
"Blackberry data is immediately exported off-shore, where it is managed by a foreign, commercial organization. Blackberry data services are currently the only data services operating in the UAE where this is the case," the nation's telecommunications authority wrote in a statement Sunday.
"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 for the UAE," the UAE regulator said.
The move comes amid growing tension between technology firms and foreign governments who are demanding greater access to user information. In the case of China and other governments such as Turkey, Web content companies are required to censor certain information in order to operate there.
“The long-range goal is to ensure they can control the information environment that their citizens are living in,” said John Palfrey, an Internet law professor at Harvard Law School. “This is a very simple story on one level: If you use a certain device, where some information is not stored locally, the worry is that they don’t know what is in that information and how they can get control of it.”
In a brief statement on its Web site, the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority wrote under the banner “Important Announcement,” that because of “non-compliance with the regulatory requirements of the UAE,” it would suspend the data applications such as e-mail, Web browsing and instant messenger as of Oct. 11.
“The suspension will remain in place until these BlackBerry applications are in full compliance with UAE regulations,” the authority said.
The announcement said that BlackBerry users could go to service providers Etisalat and "du" for “alternative services and solutions.” Both companies said they will comply with the UAE regulations and soon provide suggestions for alternative services. The Associated Press reported that the ban could apply to foreign travelers using BlackBerries in the UAE.
In a statement Monday, Research in Motion didn’t refer directly to the UAE mandate, but said it “respects both the regulatory requirements of government and the security and privacy needs of corporations and consumers. RIM does not disclose confidential regulatory discussions that take place with any government.”
In a separate statement to customers on Monday, RIM explained its security protocol for its BlackBerry users, saying it was “specifically designed to provide corporate customers with the ability to transmit information wirelessly while also providing them with the necessary confidence that no one, including RIM, could access their data.”
The company didn't address if it is in negotiations with the Emirates government for compromises that would allow users in that nation to continue to use RIM's devices.
August 2, 2010; 1:01 PM ET
Categories: International , Mobile , Privacy
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