UAE regulator to block BlackBerry services

LATEST The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority will suspend selected BlackBerry services from October 11. Saudi Arabia follows with Messenger ban.

Dubai - July 21, 2009 - Texting on a Blackberry in Dubai, July 21, 2009. STOCK (Photo by Jeff Topping/The National)
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The UAE's telecoms regulator revealed today it will suspend selected BlackBerry services from October 11. The move was followed late today by Saudi Arabia which ordered telecom companies to freeze BlackBerry Messenger services from this month, Reuters reported. Al Arabiya TV reported that a Saudi Telecom board member confirmed the move. "UAE took a bolder step than Saudi Arabia whereas Saudi Arabia is only banning one, the Messenger," said board member Abdulrahman Mazi, speaking on the Arabic language channel. "I hope this is only a kind of pressure on (BlackBerry maker) Research In Motion to take steps to provide information when needed." The UAE action was taken because, according to a statement, encrypted messages sent on BlackBerry phones are beyond the reach of the country's law enforcement. These services could "allow users to act without any legal accountability, causing judicial, social and national security concerns". The ban covers BlackBerry messenger, e-mail and web browsing. It comes after negotiations between the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) and Research In Motion (RIM), the Canadian maker of the BlackBerry, "failed". "With no solution available and in the public interest," said Mohamed al Ghanim, the general director of the TRA, "as of October 11, 2010, Blackberry ... services will be suspended until an acceptable solution can be developed and applied." Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain have raised concerns that BlackBerry messages are not traceable within their borders. Both etisalat and du said they would comply with the TRA's ruling and will offer alternatives for current BlackBerry subscribers. "Since a number of du customers are BlackBerry subscribers, du will ensure that it provides all its affected customers with an alternative solution that meets their needs with minimal disruption to their services," said du in a statement. There are an estimated 500,000 BlackBerry users in the UAE - about 11 per cent of mobile phones. "Etisalat has an obligation to act within the law and the regulations of the TRA," said Etisalat said in a statement, "While at the same time, providing our customers with the best service. Etisalat has a significant share of customers in the UAE for its mobility services, including BlackBerry customers and hence it is very important for us to ensure our customers enjoy continuity of services." Etisalat has begun informing BlackBerry subscribers by text message. "Etisalat's focus at the current time is to make sure its valued customers experience continuity of mobility services. In line with its commitment towards its customers, Etisalat will soon be announcing a range of alternative mobility products and services for its existing blackberry customers." More than 187,000 BlackBerry devices were sold in the UAE last year, according to IDC, a US technology research company. Worldwide, 37 million BlackBerrys were sold last year. Last Thursday RIM issued a statement: "RIM operates in over 175 countries today and provides a security architecture that is widely accepted by security-conscious customers and governments around the world," the company said. "RIM respects both the regulatory requirements of government and the security and privacy needs of corporations and consumers." "RIM assures its customers that it is committed to continue delivering highly secure and innovative products that satisfies the needs of both customers and governments."lackBerry services will be suspended from October 11, the UAE's telecoms regulator said.

To coincide with the announcement, the UAE's state news agency WAM has produced a detailed comparison of telecommunications regulation in the UAE, UK and US.