UAE BlackBerry Ban To Impact Visitors

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The upcoming ban on some of the everday functions of the BlackBerry handset in the UAE will also affect visitors to that country

Two middle eastern countries have cited security concerns as the reason for imposing bans on certain everyday functions of the BlackBerry handset.

The United Arab Emirates has announced that, from October, it will block the sending of emails, accessing the Internet, and delivering instant messages on Blackberry handsets.

Meanwhile Saudi Arabia has also announced that from later this month, it will prevent the use of the Blackberry-to-Blackberry instant messaging service.

National Security

Both nations are citing national security concerns as they are unable to monitor such communications via the handsets, because BlackBerry handsets automatically send the encrypted data to computer servers outside the two countries.

The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) said on Sunday that services in the UAE will be suspended as of 11 October because of the failure of attempts, dating back to 2007, to bring BlackBerry services in-line with UAE telecoms regulations. There are thought to be half a million BlackBerry users in the emirate, but it seems that the ban will also extend to visitors to the country using data roaming.

Visitor Impact

The regulator confirmed as much in an emailed stated to the Associated Press. “Roaming for BlackBerry Messenger, BlackBerry email and BlackBerry web browsing will also be suspended,” the TRA said in its unsigned email. “They won’t be able to use the mentioned services in (the) UAE as it’s suspended (in) the country.”

This move therefore has the potential to severely disrupt business travellers going through the Middle East’s busiest airport in Dubai, which averages about 100,000 passengers a day.

The UAE says that it is has taken the action because it cannot access BlackBerry encrypted data, therefore it cannot be monitored for illegal activity. Indeed, the UAE regulator has stressed that the decision was not about censorship but about regulatory compliance. To this end it has produced a comparison of telecoms regulation in the UAE, UK and US in an attempt to justify its case.

The crackdown is sure to anger critics of the country’s conservative government, who will argue that the move is to further control content they deem politically or morally objectionable.

A Bluff?

However, an analyst has suggested that the UAE announcement is just a ploy to get Research in Motion (RIM) back to the negotiating table.

According to a report on Dubai-based business journal, Arabian Business, Ovum Telecoms believes this could be the case.

“It (the suspension announcement) may very well be a bluff. The core issue remains that individual countries are getting increasingly sensitive to having data servers (in this case RIM’s) being housed and managed remotely,” Shiv Putcha, principal emerging markets analyst at consultancy Ovum Telecoms, was quoted by Arabian Business as saying.

“Throw in the encryption that RIM uses added to the remote servers and you have a situation where security agencies are unable to intercept calls and data transmissions. RIM is now faced with the choice of setting up servers in the UAE or at least a regional hub that is acceptable to the UAE authorities,” said Putcha.

Putcha also warned that it would not be possible to re-route BlackBerry services via another nearby country as a way to avoid the regulator’s suspension.

Research in Motion has so far declined to comment on the plan to suspend the services.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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