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Blackberry Banned Threat To National Security


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The United Arab Emirates has announced its to block BlackBerry e-mail, messaging and Web browsing services which is said to be jeopardizing efforts to establish the country as an international business hub.

The government with this announcement cited a potential security threat which is an encrypted data sent on the devices is moved abroad, where it cannot be monitored for illegal activity. But such a decision raises questions about whether the Gulf nations are trying to further control content they deem politically or morally objectionable.

BlackBerry phones are quite popular in the region, along with the foreign professionals in commercial centers such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the youth in the country also uses these mode of communication as this is one of the safest and secure communication channels to avoid unwanted government attention.

"The authorities have used a variety of arguments, like it can be used by terrorists" to justify the crackdown, said Christopher Davidson, a professor at the University of Durham in Britain, who has written extensively about the region. "Yes that's true, but it can also be used by civil society campaigners and activists."

Starting this October, the UAE's decision will prevent thousands of BlackBerry users in the region from accessing e-mail and the Web on their handsets. Though decision needs to be taken on whether or not the ban will extend to foreign visitors with roaming services, including several thousand passengers passing through the region's busiest airport in Dubai every day. The ban will also further damage the UAE's reputation as a relatively easy place to do business.

Residents in the region strongly points out that the BlackBerry crackdown will do more harm, making foreign businesses think twice before setting up shop in the country. "They'll think now they've banned the BlackBerry, maybe next time it'll be the Internet," said Shakir Mahmood, a Dubai-based debt collector and BlackBerry user originally from Iraq.

Last year, BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd. criticized a directive by the UAE state-owned mobile operator Etisalat telling the company's BlackBerry users to install software described as an "upgrade" required for "service enhancements." RIM proclaimed the result of the test by saying that it was in fact spy software that could allow outsiders to access private information stored on the phones. RIM strongly distanced itself from the service provider, Etisalat's decision and told users how to remove the software.

There is a high chance that after the Saudi Arabia are soon to follow the suit, where in Ali Mohammed of Saudi Telecom said, however, the company had "not received any instructions about BlackBerry from the ministry."

It has been a common governmental practise in Saudi Arabia and UAE, where censors routinely block access to websites and other media which are supposed to carry content contrary to the nations' conservative Islamic values or that could strike a political unrest.

Regulators in the UAE say BlackBerry devices operate outside a set of national security and safety laws enacted in 2007. They say they are concerned some BlackBerry services "allow users to act without any legal accountability, causing judicial, social and national security concerns." The government said “it is singling out the BlackBerry, and not other smart phones such as Apple Inc.'s iPhone and Nokia Corp. handsets, because the Blackberry is the only one that automatically sends users' data to servers overseas.”

Users like the system because it is more secure and also because of the fact that they are not sent through domestic servers which authorities can easily tap into, analysts say.

"This is the irony, that it's the device with the highest security features. These same security features that corporations like have become an issue of national security for the government," said Simon Simonian, an analyst at Dubai-based investment bank Shuaa Capital. "The UAE doesn't want to take any chances and they want to monitor what is going on in the country."

Emirati authorities are eager to portray an image of a safe and stable society free from the extremism found elsewhere in the region. Emirati regulators said in a statement they sought to reach a compromise with RIM on their concerns, but failed to come to an agreement.

"With no solution available and in the public interest ... BlackBerry Messenger, BlackBerry E-mail and BlackBerry Web-browsing services will be suspended until an acceptable solution can be developed and applied," said the director-general of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, Mohamed al-Ghanim. "BlackBerry appears to be compliant in similar regulatory environments of other countries, which makes noncompliance in the UAE both disappointing and of great concern," he added.

RIM said in a statement last week it "respects both the regulatory requirements of government and the security and privacy needs of corporations and consumers." The company didn’t disclose details of talks it had with regulators in its area of operation, but defended its phones' security features as "widely accepted" by customers and governments.

Etisalat and Du, the UAE's two state-run telephone companies, said they are working on alternative services for their BlackBerry customers.

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