United Arab Emirates To Crack Down On BlackBerry
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.�
Blackberry's smart phone is running into trouble with some countries that say they're concerned about national security and the way that this Blackberry handles data. The United Arab Emirates has announced it will�ban Blackberry email, instant messaging and Web-browsing services come this October. Saudi Arabia will block instant messaging this month.
Margaret Coker is a�reporter for the Wall Street Journal, based in Abu Dhabi, who's been writing Blackberry's problems.
Ms. MARGARET COKER (Reporter, Wall Street Journal): Good morning.
MONTAGNE: Could you please begin by breaking down what the issue is with this Blackberry smart phone as simply as you can?
Ms. COKER: Well, we've had Blackberry service here in the United Arab Emirates since 2007. And the maker of Blackberry smart phones is a company called Research in Motion. And the UAE says that when Research in Motion started the contract for Blackberry services, there was a stipulation within the contract that the company was going to deal with the government's data security concerns.
We've had three-and-a-half years now of Blackberry use. And the UAE government says until now, the Canadian-based company has not dealt with these data security concerns. So the UAE is framing this in two different ways. One is that there's national security issues at stake. And the second is that there is just simple commercial contractual issues at stake, as well.
MONTAGNE: But what is the problem with the data, and is it different than, say, Apple's iPhone?
Ms. COKER: The Blackberry is industry-obedient, in that it has some proprietary data security and data encryption methodology. So when you're typing out a text message or an email on your Blackberry phone, it's encrypted as you press send. It's then sent back to the recipient of that communication, also in an encrypted way. So governments around the world, including the UAE, have a very difficult time trying to eavesdrop and capture that communication without getting the data encryption codes the Research in Motion Company in Canada has.
MONTAGNE: So the UAE wants to eavesdrop more readily, based on its - what it says is concerns about terrorism or criminal activity. But one could see another side to that, which is that the smart phone is not allowing them to eavesdrop on people using it.
Ms. COKER: Right. And there are privacy issues at stake here. But from the UAE's point of view, that's not primary. The UAE - Dubai, Abu Dhabi - these are very open societies in the Middle East. You have freedom of movement. You have freedom of religion. And so the ability for people to communicate here is -it's limited, but only somewhat limited.
There are some Internet sites that are censored, Internet sites that have to do with pornography, Internet sites that have to do with religious extremism. And local communities think that that's a good thing.
So unlike the U.S., you don't have the same sort of privacy watchdogs or even consumer watchdogs here that can bring a government back into balance if that government is abusing its power by eavesdropping on people that, you know, government officials simply might not like or actually don't have any national security concerns.
MONTAGNE: Well, what about the Blackberry, then? Is it going to stick with its software and possibly give up this particular market or other markets that would pressure it in this way?
Ms. COKER: Well, there's still some very intense negotiations that are going on. And part of what we're finding out is Research in Motion, the Canadian company, may be bending its own rules about security and keeping customer data secure.
I've been told by sources here that Research in Motion has countered the UAE's demand that they put proxy servers here on the territory of the United Arab Emirates by saying we'll just turn over a certain number of client data to you each month or each year.
So that is potentially very damaging to Research in Motion's own corporate integrity and also its reputation of being a company that keeps its data very confidential. If they're making these ad-hoc deals with governments around the world, that's not going to make customers very happy.
MONTAGNE: We've been speaking with Margaret Coker of the Wall Street Journal, who's based in Abu Dhabi, about the United Arab Emirates banning certain features of the Blackberry smart phone.
Thank you very much.
Ms. COKER: You're welcome.
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