HomeNewsUAE to suspend Blackberry service on security fears

UAE to suspend Blackberry service on security fears


DUBAI — The United Arab Emirates ( UAE ) will suspend use of Blackberry services in October, citing concerns about security risks, and affecting half a million users in the Gulf Arab state.
The UAE said yesterday it would halt Blackberry services on October 11 until an “acceptable solution” is developed and applied.
“It’s a final decision but we are continuing discussions with them,” Mohammed Al Ghanem, director general of the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) told Reuters.
“Censorship has got nothing to do with this. What we are talking about is suspension due to the lack of compliance with UAE telecommunications regulations.”
The UAE objects to Blackberry data being exported offshore and managed by a “foreign, commercial operation.” The regulator said Blackberry data services are the only ones operating in that method. The decision will not affect users of rival Nokia and Apple’s iPhone smartphones.
“Today’s decision is based on the fact that, 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,” the TRA said.
Officials at Blackberry manufacturer Research In Motion in Canada were not immediately available for comment.
The suspension of Blackberry Messenger, email and web browsing services comes after attempts dating back to 2007 to bring the service into line with regulations, the TRA said.
The UAE expressed concern last week that the device is open to misuse that poses security risks — a move some took as dissatisfaction with the inability to monitor the popular Blackberry Messenger service.
“The government regards the services offered by BlackBerry, especially its instant messaging, as an obstacle to its goal of reinforcing censorship, filtering and surveillance,” Reporters Without Borders said in a statement on July 26.
BlackBerry, which holds around 20% of the global smartphone market behind Nokia but ahead of Apple, has an estimated 500 000 users in the UAE.
Blackberry is carried in the UAE by du telecom and Emirates Telecommunications (Etisalat), which said it would find an alternative for its clients.
Last year, RIM said a software upgrade distributed by Etisalat to Blackberry users was in fact “a telecommunications surveillance application.”
“I think there will be such an uproar, it probably won’t happen and a solution will be found,” said Irfan Ellam, Al Mal Capital telecoms analyst, referring to the mooted Blackberry services ban.
He said RIM had been asked to set up a proxy server in India to allow the government there to monitor traffic from a security perspective and the same approach might resolve the issue in the UAE and elsewhere.
“Blackberry is seen as essential by many companies, so if you want to attract business to your country it doesn’t make much sense to ban these Blackberry services,” said Ellam.
Etisalat, with the lion’s share of Blackberry users in the UAE, and du said they will offer alternative services to clients but did not elaborate. Shares in du fell nearly 1 % on Dubai’s main index and Etisalat slipped 0,5 % in Abu Dhabi.
Bahrain in April warned against the use of Blackberry Messenger software to distribute local news and India raised security concerns with the Canadian company last week.
India’s Internal Security Chief UK Bansal told reporters that maker RIM had said Indian concerns that militants may use the BlackBerry data services would be resolved soon.
A spokesman for Bahrain’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) said yesterday there was no action to suspend Blackberry services in the Gulf island kingdom.
RIM shares rose last week on speculation that it might unveil a new touchscreen BlackBerry 9800 this week to compete more effectively with the iPhone and models. — Reuters

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