UAE to Block BlackBerry Services: Too Hard to Spy On

The consequences for BlackBerry and freedom of information

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The United Arab Emirates intends to block BlackBerry email, IM, and Web services within the country because the government cannot surveil them. The government fears BlackBerries "allow users to act without any legal accountability, causing judicial, social and national-security concerns," according to a quote in The Wall Street Journal. Bloggers say the message amounts to this: since the UAE cannot spy on the information, it is banning it.

The Wall Street Journal's Margaret Coker, Tim Falconer, and Phred Dvoark note that "[t]he ban is the latest twist in a long-running battle between the U.A.E. and RIM," the company producing BlackBerries. "Last year, RIM notified BlackBerry users in the nation that an application Etisalat [the name for Emirates Telecommunications] had told its clients was a technical upgrade was actually spyware." Saudi Arabia appears close to jumping on the ban-BlackBerry wagon as well. Where does RIM--and freedom of information--go from here?

  • Earth to Emirates: Freedom Leads to a Good Economy  "Perhaps as a Crackberry addict," writes Commentary's Max Boot, using the popular nickname for the device, "I'm biased, but I have to say that this is one of the dumber decisions that the UAE could make given that Dubai--its principal city--has built its wealth on its reputation for being freer and more business-friendly than the surrounding Arab states." He argues that "[t]he link between political freedom and economic prosperity is by now well-established," given the need to "generate good ideas and ... attract free thinkers."
  • The Dilemma for RIM  John Paczkowski at All Things Digital notes that the government did give RIM the choice of making its data more surveillance-friendly. "Ironic that RIM’s encryption system, one of the chief reasons for its success in the enterprise world, is working against it in countries whose governments view it as a potential threat to national security."
  • Could BlackBerries Become Extinct in the Emirates?  Electronista staff write add that "[a] full block as planned would cripple RIM's sales in the area, as it would not only prevent the use of a BlackBerry in the affected countries but discourage foreigners from doing business in the area, since they themselves couldn't use some BlackBerry services if they have to get in contact. It may feed directly into increased sales of Android and iPhone devices in Saudi Arabia and the UAE." Margaret Coker, Tim Falconer, and Phred Dvoark point out, though, that "[t]he U.A.E. market is relatively small for [RIM]," implying this wouldn't be too great a loss to the company. "On the other hand, "the suspension of data service comes amid unease by at least one other government, India, over the inability to monitor or review electronic communications on the device in criminal, terrorist or national-security investigations."
  • Why Aren't Smartphones a Problem, Too? wonders John Timmer at Ars Technica. The issue is RIM routing all e-mails securely through Canadian servers, but "[a]n SSL connection to an offshore e-mail server would seem to create just as much trouble as RIM's approach," he muses. Yet "there don't seem to be any efforts afoot to clamp down on other smartphone platforms."
  • And Are Certain Freedoms in Decline, More Generally?  Gavin Chait Scholars and Rogues goes big-picture:

From Saudi Arabia and the UAE where governments unable to "control" Blackberry emails and so are banning them outright, to China's promotion of its firewall software t... to South Africa where a new censorship bill is being pushed through parliament.

All of this as power shifts from the developed economies of the "west" towards the emerging markets of the east and south. Europe and the US are weakened, perhaps forever, and--as they fall--the freedoms which they guaranteed are guaranteed no more.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.