UAE unbans BlackBerrys
And why might that be, pray?
The United Arab Emirates has cancelled the planned ban on RIM's BlackBerry service, saying that it no longer represents a threat to national security, but not explaining why.
The ban had been scheduled to start on Monday, but the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority has now decided against implementing the ban as "Blackberry services are now compliant with the UAE’s telecommunications regulatory framework".
That means the half-million BlackBerry users in the UAE will stay connected next week, along with visiting tourists and businessmen, apparently subject to the scrutiny of local law enforcement - though we don't know how, as RIM isn't saying.
Intercepting web browsing, instant messaging and mail hosted by RIM is relatively easy, as one catches the data at the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES). But if the customer is running their own BES then one is forced to intercept communications between the handset and the BES - impractical given the strength of encryption involved.
The rescinded ban means that RIM has either managed to convince the UAE government that terrorists are unlikely to be running their own BES, or that the company has provided some sort of back door into handsets or BES servers. The latter seems unlikely, so we'd bet money on the former.
More important, to RIM, is if it can convince India of the same thing. The Indian government gave RIM 60 days to sort out lawful intercept, which runs out at the end of October.
Not that it matters - the kerfuffle around the issue will be enough to drive the properly paranoid off the BlackBerry service, while the technically-astute terrorist will continue to use one of the plethora of alternative secure channels available to them. ®
BIS not BES
Consumer devices run on a BIS at the telco so were always more open to government snooping. The query here is with private BES networks. This must mean that RIM have now built in a backdoor to the private BES architecture - they had previously said that this was technically impossible. Would be interesting to get a statement from RIM on the matter.
from the UAE
I have lived in the UAE for several years, this whole PR disaster is par for the course.
They know as well as we do that terrorists don't run round plotting to blow up airliners on Blackberry chat because they'd assume the yanks or canucks can bug it.
So the only 'threats to national security' the UAE is worried about is whether their daughters are shock! horror! sending a text to a boy (who isn't their brother), or SHOCK! HORROR!! unveiling their face and maybe even sharing a car with a boy (who is not their brother).
If you did succeed in banning the things, the kids will just move onto using other online encrypted systems instead. Already there is talk of banning gmail for precisely this reason - because running under https, the spooks cannot monitor the youth of the nation.
If I was RIM (and I am sure they have someone with as much local knowledge as me), I would not give one inch. I would only explain to them that the UAE is a tiny part of my business but that Blackberry is a vital tool for many of the business people they hope to attract here. I would also explain that I would rather forfeit the prospect of business in the UAE than lose the trust worldwide of Blackberry users. The only concession I would make is to agree not to admit publicly that I gave no ground whatsoever, so the UAE could at least limp away with a little pride intact. Take it or leave it (of course, they'll take it - they have no choice, really).
When all your government and civil service jobs are appointed purely on the basis of family connections, you're going to end up with idiots in charge. Combine that with a culture of deference, an aversion to consultation, rule by decree and a censored media, and you have a government that makes stupid decisions without realizing how stupid until it's all over the UK papers. And then they have no choice but to back down and look even more inept.
The new blackberries
are going to be of clamshell form-factor so they can bend over just as readily as RIM did.