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UAE to cut off BlackBerry users

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The United Arab Emirates will impose a ban on the email service on RIM's BlackBerry devices from October 1st this year because it's just too secure to be allowed to exist.

BlackBerry-fumblers will however still be able to make phone calls, use SMS and MMS and browse the web freely.

The ban was announced yesterday, and comes into place on 11 October. The UAE's Telecommunication Regularity Authority made the announcement, which was followed by suspiciously similar statements (reproduced by Gulf News) from the two operators in the region who offer BlackBerry services – Etisalat and du.

The operators say they will be developing comparative services to suit the local market – presumably using servers hosted in a country where the UAE's security services have more influence, such as the UAE.

All countries intercept digital communications, with greater or lesser judicial oversight depending on the region. When a government has legitimate security concerns it's hard to argue that the right to privacy overrides them. Some argue that terrorists will simply move to better encryption systems and only the innocent will suffer, but that credits the terrorists with smarts they don't always possess.

It's much easier to buy standard kit such as a BlackBerry. RIM's servers are in Canada, and email communication between BlackBerry devices in the UAE and Canada is encrypted beyond the means of most law enforcement to crack. Other governments may be able to push RIM into revealing communications, but the UAE has obviously failed to achieve that.

The ban was mooted last week, and looked at the time like a clumsy attempt to push RIM into some sort of deal. But it seems the threat wasn't empty, so if RIM wants to go on doing business in the UEA then it will have to capitulate to the demands of local security services. But who's going to trust a BlackBerry if it does? ®

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