RIM testing Saudi servers

Saudi Arabia and Research in Motion, the maker of BlackBerry, are now testing three servers in the kingdom in a bid to resolve a row over the Canadian firm's popular instant messaging service.

JEDDAH // Saudi Arabia and Research in Motion (RIM), the maker of BlackBerry, are now testing three servers in the kingdom in a bid to resolve a row over the Canadian firm's popular instant messaging service, a regulatory official told news services yesterday. Government technical experts had insisted RIM install servers in the kingdom to better allow monitoring of messages.

Abdulrahman al Mazi, a board member of Saudi Telecom Co, which has the largest number of users of the BlackBerry service, told al Arabiya channel yesterday that "security forces in the kingdom have all the rights to obtain information and access to users' data whenever needed ... This is a right for the government and it's part of the telecommunication regulations in the country." "Three servers are being tested, one for each of the three mobile operators. We're waiting for feedback [from the telecoms firms]," the unnamed official from the Communications and Information Technology Commission told Reuters.

"I hope that the new system will work," Mr Mazi added in his TV interview. There are about 700,000 BlackBerry users in Saudi Arabia, which is RIM's largest Middle East market. Other countries, including the UAE, Lebanon and India, have voiced concerns similar to those of Saudi Arabia. The Commission of Information Technology and Communication had announced in a statement that it was giving RIM and the three operators more time "due to the efforts exerted by the mobile phone service providers in order to meet the regulatory demands of the commission".

"It shouldn't take them more than a week to solve the entire issue as RIM owns the technology," said Mohammed al Qahtani, an Abha-based IT manager and an expert on electronic financial crimes. "We need to have RIM's servers in the kingdom as our security is a major concern," he said. "We simply can't trace back any call records so far for communication among users in the country." "I even doubt that the regulator knows how many users are there," he said. "Everything is in the hands of RIM and the local operators."

Some Saudi IT experts, such as Adel al Ghamdi, have different views than those of Mr al Qahtani. "I'm not against the ban if the service is a threat to national security but everyone is talking about possible security breeches without giving a solid case that this has happened," said Mr al Ghamdi, CEO of Jeddah-based Yam Technology Co. "I don't think there will be a ban as RIM and the local operators are keen on reaching an agreement with the government as they are deriving a huge income from BlackBerry users in the kingdom," Mr al Ghamdi said.

Talks have been going on for more than a year, and Mr al Ghamdi said the telecoms companies were not concerned about finding solutions back then as the fines for violating the regulations was way less than the money generated. "The fine is around five million riyal [Dh4.89m] and the money generated from the service is close to one billion," he added. "No one cared before the ban to find solution as they can easily pay for the fines."