The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, both aggressive in their electronic eavesdropping practices, have announced plans to stop supporting key features on BlackBerry smartphones because the devices encrypt data too heavily. Each country will soon restrict the use of BlackBerry Messenger services, while the UAE will also block the use of email and web browsers on the devices. BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM) has so far refused to lower its encryptions standards to appease the governments. What will these restrictions mean for international users? (Watch an AP report about the BlackBerry ban)
Something had to be done: For three years we have been trying to come to an adequate arrangement with RIM, says the UAE's Telecommincations Regulatory Authority. Unfortunately, "in their current form, certain BlackBerry services allow users to act without any legal accountability, causing judicial, social and national security concerns for the UAE." We can't allow that continue unaddressed.
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
This is the tip of the iceberg: We should have seen this coming, says author B.G. in The Economist. The UAE regularly monitors internet traffic, and has long blocked access to sites that feature "pornography, terrorism, [or] hacking skills." But because BlackBerry data is stored outside the Emirates, the devices offer a "loophole" allowing users to send and receive information "without having anyone inside that country read it." That's a mighty big loophole. Expect more bans going forward.
They'll sort this out: It's "ironic" that "RIM's encryption system" — "one of the chief reasons" for BlackBerry's success in the business world — is now "working against it," says John Paczkowski in All Things D. Together the UAE and Saudi Arabia "have between 500,000 and 1 million Blackberry subscribers" — not a "huge number," but enough "that the company will almost certainly work out an agreement before the bans go into effect."
Create an account with the same email registered to your subscription to unlock access.