UAE and Saudi Arabia to ban BlackBerry functions due to security concerns

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The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have both announced that they will be blocking select BlackBerry communication functions because they are unable to monitor them, reports the BBC.

The UAE plans to block web access, email, and BlackBerry-to-BlackBerry instant messaging functionality starting October 11, and Saudi Arabia will block BlackBerry IM starting this month. BlackBerrys are particularly troublesome for the countries because much of their communications are encrypted and sent to servers in other countries. According to estimates, there are some 500,000 BlackBerry users in the UAE, and 400,000 in Saudi Arabia.

The lock down is intended to put pressure on BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion (RIM) to release data from user communications “when needed”, according to Abdulrahman Mazi, a Saudi Telecom board member. TRA, the UAE telecommunications regulator, says that the encrypted communications — which don’t comply with local laws — raise “judicial, social and national security concerns.”

To its credit, RIM said that it “does not disclose confidential regulatory discussions that take place with any government,” and it went on to assure customers that it is “committed to continue delivering highly secure and innovative products that satisfy the needs of both customers and governments.”

TRA — which last year attempted to install spyware on BlackBerry phones — said that the move is more about the lack of compliance with its regulations than it is about censorship. In 2007, RIM refused TRA access to code that would decrypt secured customer data.

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