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Middle East
UAE to block BlackBerry services
Emirati agency says decision result of "judicial, social and national security concerns".
Last Modified: 01 Aug 2010 13:18 GMT
The emirate of Dubai has marketed itself as a global financial hub [GALLO/GETTY]

The telecommunications authority in the United Arab Emirates has said it will begin blocking some services on the popular BlackBerry brand of mobile phones this October.

The ban, which will affect BlackBerry email, messenging and web applications, comes after the UAE and Research in Motion (RIM), the maker of BlackBerry phones, could not agree on a way to make the phones comply with local laws. 

As they stand, BlackBerry services allow users to "commit violations without being subject to legal accountability," the UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) said in a statement on Sunday.

Some have accused the UAE of trying to censor BlackBerry phones because the government cannot easily monitor them.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia's telecoms regulator ordered local operators to freeze certain functions for Blackberry users this month.

State-controlled Saudi Telecom confirmed the ban on the service, a board member, speaking on Al Arabiya television, said.

'A serious mistake'

After the TRA warned in July that BlackBerry phones posed a threat to national security, Reporters Without Borders accused the UAEof viewing BlackBerry services "as an obstacle to its goal of reinforcing censorship, filtering and surveillance".

The group said that a ban or block on the BlackBerry would be "a serious mistake and utterly inconsistent on the part of a country that aspires to be a technological leader in the Arab world".

Unlike other phones that can send email and access the Internet, BlackBerry phones automatically send and store users' data on servers outside the UAE.

"Due to its technical nature, some BlackBerry services, like the messenger, email, and web browsing, remain beyond the implementation of local laws," the statement, from TRA chief Mohammed al-Ghanem, said.

Those services, the statement said, could "allow individuals to commit violations without being subject to legal accountability, which would lead to dangerous implications on the social, judicial and national security".

BlackBerry also "appears to be compliant in similar regulatory environments of other countries," the statement said.

Indian precedent

BlackBerry has an estimated 500,000 users in the UAE, where service is provided by du telecom and Emirates Telecommunications (Etisalat).

Last year, RIM said a software upgrade distributed by Etisalat to BlackBerry users was in fact "a telecommunications surveillance application".

But RIM has also been in discussions with India to allow that country to access its users' data.

India has asked RIM to set up a proxy server so that the government there can monitor traffic from a security perspective, Irfan Ellam, a telecommunications analyst at Al Mal Capital, told the Reuters news agency.

The country has threatened to ban BlackBerry entirely if RIM did not grant it access, according to the AFP news agency.

In the meantime, Etisalat and du telecom said they will offer BlackBerry users alternative services within days but did not elaborate on what they might be.

Other Gulf countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait, have reportedly voiced similar concerns about the BlackBerry.      

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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