Confusion over Saudi Blackberry ban

Government yet to enforce ban as services are still available despite disruptions.

    Saudi Arabia has said that Blackberry's services do not meet 'regulatory requirements' [AFP]

    Saudi Arabia is one of a number of countries expressing concern that the Blackberry device is a security threat because encrypted information sent on the phones is impossible for local governments to monitor.

    Regulators had earlier in the week ordered the kingdom's three mobile phone providers to block Blackberry services from Friday or face a $1.3m fine.

    'Testing solutions'

    The Blackberry manufacturer and the Saudi government have been meeting to discuss how the dispute over access to data could be resolved.

    "We are testing technical solutions with RIM [Research In Motion] ... Servers to
    be more exact," a source with direct knowledge of the negotiations told Reuters news agency.

    The source said the two options to resolve the row were servers in Saudi Arabia or a patch which would allow the government access to data in cases affecting national security.

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    The United Arab Emirates also announced plans on Sunday to block Blackberry email, web browsing and messaging services in October if RIM did not comply with "local laws."

    India, Lebanon, Algeria and Indonesia have all raised similar national security concerns about their lack of access to Blackberry data.

    Blackberry information, such as emails and text messages, is stored in encrypted form on servers in Canada, where the manufacturer RIM is based.

    Philip Victor, a data security advocate, told Al Jazeera that RIM and the foreign governments concerned need to find a way to rework the balance between privacy and accessibility.

    "How do we ensure the bad guys aren't using it for purposes that could harm the country?" he said.

    However, authorities in the US can access Blackberry users' information with a court order, and the UAE is pushing for the same powers.

    Peter Van Loan, the Canadian trade minister, told reporters that his country's officials are working with foreign governments to find a solution, while Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said the US would hold talks with the UAE and other countries on the issue.

    Shares fall

    The UAE and Saudi Arabia combined make up only around 1.2 million of RIM's more than 41 million subscribers, but some analysts said they were concerned about the impact on the company's reputation for providing iron-clad privacy.

    "The company has to stand its ground ... they've built their loyalty largely around security," Nick Agostino, an analyst at Mackie Research Capital Corp., told the Reuters news agency.

    But shares in the company slipped again on Thursday by $1.2, or 2.2 per cent, to $52.2, on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

    The value of RIM's stock has fallen 23 per cent this year, and as the list of countries with concerns about access to Blackberry data grows, bans may affect a sizeable slice of Blackberry customers.

    However, some analysts said that with new technologies being developed all the time it would be difficult for government's to make a real impact on the control of the information being accessed by their citizens.

    "I think their expectations are unrealistic over the long term to maintain the kind of control that they're looking for," Kevin Restivo, a senior mobile phone analyst at the technology research firm IDC, told Reuters.

    "They're really trying to put the genie back in the bottle here".

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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