The United Arab Emirates (UAE) government has followed up its earlier threat to ban Research In Motion’s (RIM) BlackBerry devices on security grounds, amid reports that other major markets in the region could follow its lead. The UAE regulator said in a statement yesterday that the ban, scheduled to come into effect on 11 October, is due to the “failure of ongoing attempts, dating back to 2007, to bring BlackBerry services in the UAE in line with UAE telecommunications regulations.” The ban relates to BlackBerry email, instant messaging and web browsing services but does not cover traditional telephony and SMS messaging. The suspension of data services is due to RIM’s use of centralised, encrypted networks, which means that – unlike other smartphones – BlackBerry data cannot be easily monitored by governments. “BlackBerry data is immediately exported offshore, where it’s managed by a foreign, commercial organisation. BlackBerry data services are currently the only data services operating in the UAE where this is the case,” the regulator said. “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.” RIM has yet to officially comment on the latest development.
According to sources at the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), RIM last month offered to allow the government access to the communications of 3,000 of its roughly 500,000 UAE-based BlackBerry clients, including email, text messages and IM communications, but had its offer declined by the UAE authorities. Other sources deny that such an offer was made. The report adds that the country’s main operators have said they will comply with the ban and market-leader Etisalat has said it will soon announce alternative options for its BlackBerry users. Worryingly for RIM, the UAE’s move could prompt other governments to follow suit. According to the WSJ, Kuwait, India and China are among countries that reportedly have asked RIM for easier data access as a condition for operating within their borders.