What's So Worrisome About A BlackBerry? The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia say they will pull the plug on some BlackBerry services -- because they can't monitor them closely enough. E-mails and instant messages the devices send are encrypted using a system controlled by the manufacturer, Research In Motion.
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What's So Worrisome About A BlackBerry?

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What's So Worrisome About A BlackBerry?

What's So Worrisome About A BlackBerry?

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Now, BlackBerry addicts may not be able to get their fix the next time they visit the United Arab Emirates. Telecom regulators in the Emirates say they will shut down data service for the popular smartphone in October.

As NPR's Martin Kaste reports, the UAE doesn't like the fact that the smartphones are too hard to spy on.

MARTIN KASTE: BlackBerrys make governments nervous. That's because the emails and instant messages they send are encrypted, using a system controlled by Research in Motion, the Canadian company that makes the BlackBerry. This makes it next to impossible for security agencies to spy on those messages unless they have the Canadians' cooperation. And apparently, officials in the UAE don't think they're getting that cooperation.

Professor CHRIS SOGHOIAN (Privacy and Technology Expert, Indiana University): This is not the first government to try and pressure RIM.

KASTE: Chris Soghoian is an expert in privacy and technology with Indiana University. A couple of years ago, India threatened a similar shutdown. And Soghoian says the UAE's frustration has been building for some time now.

Prof. SOGHOIAN: Last year, they were caught ham-fistedly trying to install spyware onto the handsets of Blackberry users in Dubai.

KASTE: RIM apparently has been in talks with UAE officials on this issue, and some believe this shutdown threat is just a negotiating tactic. The company declined to give an interview. But in a prepared statement, it hinted at a delicate balancing act between the demands of government security and customer privacy.

In the statement it says, quote: RIM respects both the regulatory requirements of government, and the security and privacy needs of corporations and consumers, unquote.

In the meantime, Soghoian says Americans probably shouldn't feel too smug about Big Brother in the Arab world.

Prof. SOGHOIAN: U.S. BlackBerry subscribers can be monitored fairly easily, too. It just requires a little bit more paperwork. You know, the U.S. and Canadian governments have a very, very cozy relationship. There's no reason to believe that the Canadians would say no to a request from either law enforcement or intelligence agencies in the United States.

KASTE: That's not something RIM will confirm or deny. As to other kinds of smart phones - iPhones and the rest - federal law requires that those systems be open to legally sanctioned surveillance by law enforcement. And that law has been on the books since the mid-1990s.

(Soundbite of music)

KASTE: Martin Kaste, NPR News.

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