BlackBerry at Risk of Being Banned in Middle East

Dennis Faas's picture

Business users may love their BlackBerry smartphones, but governments in the Middle East are not so keen. Three countries have issued different degrees of bans on the devices' functions.

The biggest conflict comes in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where officials there accuse the device of breaching local laws on data security. The problem is that messages sent on a BlackBerry are encrypted and immediately sent to servers in Canada for processing and storage. BlackBerry maker Research in Motion is based in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

The UAE frowns upon such activity because it demands the ability to be able to access data in special circumstances. It claims this is for monitoring terrorists and gathering evidence, though some critics suggest it is simply for general snooping. (Source:

Most Features Banned From October On

Last week the United Arab Emirates government claimed the devices have "social, judicial and national security repercussions" but ruled out a complete ban. It's now announced that from October, users will not be allowed to send emails, view webpages, or use the instant messaging feature.

That may not be a complete ban, but it does make owning a BlackBerry pretty useless. (Source:

Real-Time Instant Messaging Ban

Meanwhile, later this month Saudi Arabia plans to block the instant messaging service which allows BlackBerry users to chat in real time via text. Again, the reason given is security concerns caused by the overseas data storage.

Web Site Censorship

The government of Kuwait has talked with BlackBerry makers Research In Motion (RIM) about the security issue, but has reached an agreement over a different concern: the government wants RIM to limit access to websites of the adult genre. RIM has reportedly agreed to block 3,000 such sites but asked to be allowed an end-of-the-year deadline to complete the process. (Source:

Finally, an Indian newspaper is reporting that RIM has agreed to allow officials in the country the ability to monitor emails sent to and from BlackBerry devices.

RIM Attempts to Satisfy Government and Public

RIM hasn't spoken in detail about any of these situations, but says it wants to "satisfy the needs of both customers and governments". (Source:

The cases reflect similar dilemmas faced by many Western firms doing business in countries with harsher controls over communications, most notably the likes of Google in China. Companies have to weigh up the business benefits of targeting potentially lucrative markets (either through wealthy consumers or the sheer number of possible customers) and the ethical drawbacks of being seen to facilitate censorship or privacy violations.

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