BlackBerry Services Will Be Halted in U.A.E. as Traffic Can't Be Monitored

Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry services will be suspended in the United Arab Emirates, the Middle East’s business hub, from October because of security concerns as the company faces similar restrictions in India.

BlackBerry’s Messenger, e-mail and Web browsing services will be halted from Oct. 11, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority said in a statement on state-run Emirates News Agency. “In their current form, certain BlackBerry services allow users to act without any legal accountability, causing judicial, social and national security concerns for the U.A.E.,” it said.

Countries like India have struggled with BlackBerry’s data encryption technology as they seek to monitor wireless communications. Saudi Arabia’s telecommunications regulator ordered phone providers in the largest Arab economy to suspend BlackBerry’s Messenger service, Reuters reported today, citing unidentified industry sources. Bahrain is imposing a ban on sharing local news on BlackBerry to avoid “confusion and chaos,” Gulf News reported on April 9.

The U.A.E. regulator informed local phone companies Emirates Telecommunications Corp., known as Etisalat, and Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Co., known as Du, of the suspension of BlackBerry services and instructed them to shift clients to other services.

Solution

“This is going to be resolved,” said Irfan Ellam, an analyst at Al Mal Capital PJSC in Dubai, who has “outperform” ratings on Etisalat and Du. “These are issues that have been brought up in other countries, where they’ve found a solution, and there’s no reason to think they won’t do the same here.”

BlackBerry devices, introduced in the U.A.E. in 2006, allow users to send messages that can’t be monitored, violating the country’s 2007 Safety, Emergency and National Security rules, the regulator said last week. Although such communications should fall under the remit of that law, encryption allows them to avoid monitoring, it said today.

“The issue has been under discussion for three years,” the regulator’s Director General Mohammed el Ghanim said in a phone interview today, saying the decision to stop BlackBerry services wasn’t linked to any specific breach of security. “We want only the implementation of the U.A.E. law, we are a sovereign country and our laws should be respected.”

U.A.E. authorities arrested a BlackBerry user who sought to use the device to organize a protest against an increase in retail gasoline prices, Reporters Without Borders said in a statement on its website July 29.

Alternative Products

Etisalat, the U.A.E.’s largest fixed-line, mobile and Internet service provider, said it will soon announce alternative products and services for its BlackBerry customers. Du said voice, short messages, or SMS, and multimedia message services, or MMS, would continue to be available.

Research in Motion, based in Waterloo, Ontario, did not have an immediate comment when called by Bloomberg News today. Etisalat and Du said in separate e-mailed statements they were informed by the regulator of the pending suspension and would seek to provide users with alternative mobile options.

BlackBerry services may be banned in India unless the Canadian company agrees to resolve security concerns, a government official with direct knowledge of the matter said July 29. India told Research In Motion to set up a proxy server in the country to enable security agencies to monitor e-mail traffic, according to three government officials, who declined to be identified as the information is confidential.

The company faced obstacles recently in Pakistan, where the national telecommunications regulator said it blocked Internet browsers on BlackBerry handsets, citing concerns over blasphemy.

Monitoring

Communications are subject to monitoring in countries like the U.S., where the Patriot Act, passed in 2001 following the Sept. 11 attacks, permits intercepting wire, oral and electronic communications when terrorism is suspected.

Technology companies have faced other challenges over access to information. Google Inc. conflicted with China in January after the company said it would no longer self-censor search results in the world’s largest Internet market. Google had its Internet license renewed earlier this month after it stopped automatically redirecting Chinese users to its separate Hong Kong site.

To contact the reporters on this story: Anthony DiPaola in Dubai at adipaola@bloomberg.net; Vivian Salama in Abu Dhabi at vsalama@bloomberg.net.

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