Emirates to block most BlackBerry services

UAE in dispute over access to RIM's encrypted communications

The United Arab Emirates will soon suspend most functions for BlackBerry mobile phones, in a dispute over access to the smart phone's communications. In an announcement this Sunday, the Emirate’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority stated that on Oct. 11, it will block mobile services such as e-mail and text messaging, but not voice calls.

The ban is part of a longstanding dispute between the Persian Gulf state and Research In Motion, the smart phone’s Canadian producer. According to both the New York Times and the Associated Press, the heart of the dispute centers on RIM’s unwillingness to let the UAE’s government access the secure Web-based communications used by BlackBerry wireless devices.

Governments throughout the region worry that the smart phone users, who are primarily business users or young and technology savvy, will use the encrypted communications for anti-government purposes. The UAE has some 500,000 BlackBerry subscribers.

The Associated Press noted that the UAE contends that some BlackBerry features operate outside of the country’s laws, “causing judicial, social and national security concerns.” BlackBerry devices encrypt their data and route it through the company’s overseas routers. This automatic encryption makes it almost impossible for authorities to monitor.

Unless RIM and the UAE reach an agreement before the October deadline, the government will block all nonvoice services by BlackBerry smart phones. The ban will also affect all travelers passing through Dubai, which has the Emirate’s primary airport and is a major regional aviation hub.

RIM’s security features have caused stress with other governments, such as India’s over access to BlackBerry communications. The Times reported that Saudi Arabia, which has similar security concerns to the UAE, is considering a similar ban.

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