UAE to Research in Motion: BlackBerry Too Good at Protecting Data

By Matthew Harwood

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) decided Sunday to suspend BlackBerry smartphones' data services—e-mail, instant messaging, and Web browsing—beginning in October because of security concerns. The reason behind the move, however, isn't because BlackBerry communications are insecure; rather, it's because they are too secure, according to the UAE's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA).

"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 agency's statement read yesterday.

The suspension of BlackBerry data services will begin October 11 and "will remain in place until these BlackBerry applications are in full compliance with UAE regulations," the TRA said today in another press release released today.

In an unsigned e-mail to the Associated Press, the TRA also acknowledged the suspension will apply to foreigners as well, which could make communication more difficult in the business-friendly city-state of Dubai, one of the UAE's seven emirates.

BlackBerry's data services are widely considered the most secure in the marketplace. "Other smartphones, like the Apple iPhone, are not tied to one e-mail service. In general, that means e-mail to and from the devices mostly travels over the open Internet and can be relatively easily monitored,' reports The New York Times' Barry Meier and Robert F. Worth. "But the BlackBerry uses highly encrypted data that is received by wireless carriers’ towers and is immediately routed through a closed, global network operated by the company. To enforce the ban, the carriers will stop forwarding that data."

Which will be a relatively easy task for the UAE for two reasons, reports the Economist. "Undersea cables bring the internet to the UAE at only two locations, and both of the country's internet-service providers comply enthusiastically with an internet access-management policy, which means that the country can control whatever data reside within or arrive at its border."

Jim Krane, author of City of Gold, a history of Dubai, told the NYTs that the move is a security precaution in an otherwise open country by Middle Eastern standards. “It welcomes just about anyone to visit, and even to settle and work. Nationals of many countries don’t even need entry visas," he said. "In this environment, the government probably feels that electronic eavesdropping and surveillance are key to maintaining internal security.”


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