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Blackberry's Challenge - It's Too Secure

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David Silversmith
David Silversmith

Citing national security concerns, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has announced that in October it will begin banning Blackberry Messenger, Blackberry email and Blackberry web browsing.

The reason that the UAE is concerned is due to the way that Research In Motion (RIM) handles BlackBerry data. Unlike most phones, BlackBerry data is encrypted and routed overseas through RIM’s network center in Canada.  This means that it is impossible to monitor the encrypted data being sent via the Blackberry.  According to The Wall Street Journal, the ban came after RIM rejected the idea of setting up a proxy server within the UAE - a server that would have given the UAE government easy access for monitoring.

Mohammed al-Ghanem, the chief of the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, stated that “In the public interest, we have today informed the providers of telecommunications services in the country of our decision to suspend the Blackberry services of messenger, email and electronic browsing."  Without the ability to monitor electronic data, the UAE would have to request that RIM to turn over data for criminal investigations. 

In many cases, the investigations are of a nature that the security agency would not even want an outside organization, like RIM, to know the details or even that an investigation exists. The government announcment stated that the "decision is based on the fact that, in their current form, certain BlackBerry services allow users to act without any legal accountability, causing judicial, social and national-security concerns.”

It appears that the UAE announcement got the ball rolling.  Shortly after the UAE announcement, Saudi Arabian telecoms and a government official said that Saudi Arabia would be banning the BlackBerry Messenger feature this month.  These two markets are not key markets for RIM, though visitors to these markets with Blackberry devices would also be affected.

A larger issue is brewing in India where the government and RIM held talks Wednesday aimed at ending a standoff sparked by the Indian government's demand that the BlackBerry maker provide it with decryption tools that would allow it to monitor traffic across the company's messaging servers. With over one million Blackberry users in India - the issue has much bigger financial risks for RIM.

RIM has remained mute on all thee issues with the simple statement that "RIM does not disclose confidential regulatory discussions that take place with any government."

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