The United Arab Emirates will be placing a full ban on Research in Motion’s smartphones beginning October, citing security concerns for its decision. Key security threats in the past have prompted the regional government to demand greater access to data, messages, and email conversations sent from within the area, but Research in Motion’s highly encrypted servers make it difficult, if not impossible, to eavesdrop on electronic messages sent and received via the company’s BlackBerry smartphones. BlackBerry will be the latest among the many tech companies facing issues of privacy, censorship, and eavesdropping in the name of national security. The level of encryption provided by BlackBerry smartphones make it a good choice for government use in the US, but also makes it hard to monitor information sent and received.
According to the New York Times, the United Arab Emirates’ push for open monitoring is in response to recent incidents: “The United Arab Emirates, in particular, were alarmed by the killing in January of a Palestinian operative in a Dubai hotel, possibly by a hit team from the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. The episode infuriated the government, which wants to encourage tourism and business, and heightened its desire for increased electronic surveillance and security.” Because the UAE is often an open destination — not requiring even a visa from nationals of many countries — and encourages business, tourism, and international trade, the government’s desire to monitor electronic communications is not without merit.
In 2007, the government of UAE wanted to make a deal with RIM to assume authority over services in the country. According to the UAE, “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.” Although it’s unclear to what measure carriers and the government has gone through to monitor electronic communications originating from a BlackBerry in the UAE, RIM had warned users of a software update from carrier Etisalat that the update contained spyware: “Independent sources have concluded that Etisalat’s ‘Registration’ software application is not actually designed to improve performance of a BlackBerry Handheld, but rather to send received messages back to a central server.”
As UAE seeks greater control over communications in its geographic territory and RIM has maintained its position to keep its server secured, the full ban will be in effect on October 11.