NPR logo BlackBerry Crackdown Starts In Arab Gulf States


BlackBerry Crackdown Starts In Arab Gulf States

Many people will be surprised to learn their BlackBerries are a threat to global security but there you have it. Unnamed/AFP hide caption

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What good is a BlackBerry if you can't send and receive e-mails? Well, BlackBerry users in the United Arab Emirates and perhaps Saudi Arabia are about to find out.

The UAE government has announced that it will start blocking BlackBerry data service in October because it apparently can't break the encryption provided by Research In Motion, the Canadian maker of the popular communications devices.

Thus, UAE says, the devices represent a security risk to the "social, judicial and national security" since they use encryption software that makes it impossible for security officials to snoop on messages sent with the devices.

Because of this, the UAE plans to a ban effective Oct. 11 on the use of BlackBerries for e-mails and texting. Voice calls would be unaffected. UAE's Telecommunication Regulatory Authority has ordered telecom providers there to find alternatives for their customers.

Meanwhile, according to Gulf News, Saudi Arabia has set Friday as the date a similar ban is scheduled to go into affect if RIM doesn't reach an agreement with Saudi telecommunications providers that would give the government access to decrypted message traffic.

And Kuwait is considering a similar ban as well.

No official word from RIM yet on what it intends to do.

There are reportedly about 500,000 BlackBerry users in the UAE who will be affected.

It's not just Arab Gulf states that are going down this road. The Indian government has also raised concerns about their inability to monitor the traffic on BlackBerries for security reasons and has raised the specter of a crackdown.

A recent story in the Times of India reported that an agreement had been reached between Indian officials that would address the government's concerns.

This anti-BlackBerry movement by several governments raises many questions. Among them is, what about the U.S.'s National Security Agency? How have they addressed this issue of BlackBerry encryption in order to spy on the communications of suspected U.S. adversaries? If we can get an answer to this one, we'll share it with you.