ARAB PENINSULA—Two Arab Gulf states have decided to ban the use of instant messaging between Blackberry devices in lieu of being able to spy on users' communications. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates announced the move, with the UAE adding an additional ban on email and internet access. In related news, Kuwait has asked Blackberry maker Research in Motion (RIM) to block porn from the country.
According to the Daily Mail, “Both [Saudi Arabia and the UAE] claim that their inability to monitor such communications hinders their security. This is because the BlackBerry handsets automatically send the encrypted data to computer servers outside of the two countries. The UAE ban is to start in October, while the Saudi move will begin later this month.” Upwards of 1.2 million people in Saudi Arabia and the UAE are Blackberry users.
According to Reuters, “RIM has given ‘initial approval’ to block 3,000 porn sites at the request of Kuwait's communications ministry.” The Canadian manufacturer has apparently asked to have until the end of the year to implement the filtering.
Regarding the move to limit use, the state-controlled Saudi Telecom admitted that the decision was made in order to pressure RIM “to release data from users’ communications ‘when needed.’”
In the UAE, TRA, the telecom regulator said its move to restrict usage has nothing to do with censorship. “What we are talking about is suspension due to the lack of compliance with UAE telecommunications regulations,” said TRA director general Mohammed al-Ghanem.
This is not the first time the UAE has tried to gain access to encrypted Blackberry communications. In 2007, RIM refused TRA access to the code for RIM's encrypted networks so it could monitor email and other data, and last year, according to the Daily Mail, TRA tried unsuccessfully to install spyware on Blackberry handsets.
No word yet from RIM about the Saudi Arabia and UAE demands. But the Arabian Peninsula is not the only place requesting the ability to monitor Blackberry communications.
According to Reuters, “RIM has agreed to give India's security authorities the right to monitor e-mail sent and received on the smartphone.”