UAE and Saudi Arabia ban BlackBerry services

Authorities in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have moved to ban the use of certain BlackBerry services in their respective territories.

In a statement posted today, the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority said that use of the hand-held devices for email, web-browsing and instant messaging would be outlawed in the emirates from 11 October.

Similarly, Saudi Arabia’s state-run operator, Saudi Telecom, has said that it will ban the use of the smartphone’s instant messaging function, known as BlackBerry Messenger, as the encryption used does not allow authorities to monitor messages.

Authorities in the UAE had said last week that some BlackBerry services were in contravention of local legislation. It is reported that the UAE is specifically concerned about features in the device that automatically send data to servers held outside the emirates.

However, press freedom advocate Reporters Without Borders has claimed that the restrictions on BlackBerry usage were being enacted as a means of censorship. The group claims that one 18-year-old user has been arrested and held since July after attempting to organise a protest using the BlackBerry Messenger service.

“Because they cannot decipher BlackBerry’s encrypted data and thereby gain access to its clients’ personal data, the security forces have decided to intimidate users in order to combat their potential for disseminating information,” the organisation said in a statement late last week.

Mohammed al-Ghanem, head of the UAE’s telecoms authority, refuted claims that censorship was the motivation behind the ban. "Censorship has got nothing to do with this," he commented. "What we are talking about is suspension due to the lack of compliance with UAE telecommunications regulations."

Research In Motion, BlackBerry’s Canada-based manufacturer, was not available for comment at the time of publication.

Peter Done

Peter Done is managing director of Peninsula Business Services, the personnel and employment law consultancy he set up having already built a successful betting shop business.

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