BlackBerry faces ban in UAE, Saudi Arabia, to cooperate in India

by Bharat Suneja

It appears to be an increasingly monitored world for mobile devices, as governments across the globe rev up their efforts to snoop into mobile messaging.

UAE’s The National reports the country’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority has said that BlackBerry Messenger, BlackBerry E-mail and BlackBerry Web-browsing services in the UAE will be suspended as of October 11.

The suspension is a result of the failure of ongoing attempts, dating back to 2007, to bring BlackBerry services in the UAE in line with UAE telecommunications regulations.

More in TRA to suspend UAE BlackBerry services.

But don’t let this come across as the high-handedness of one country. The UAE’s state news agency WAM has produced a detailed comparison of telecommunications regulation in the UAE, UK and US. RIM faces a similar ban in Saudi Arabia. As Jim Carr reports in Forbes (see RIM Helps Russia, China Monitor Blackberry Users’ Emails), RIM already seems to be complying with monitoring requirements in China and Russia.

RIM faces another on-again, off-again ban situation in India. In 2008, the Indian government requested access to encrypted BlackBerry communications or threatened a similar ban. Interestingly, although the calls for a ban started in 2008, the ban never happened. Later, the Indian government publicly stated it was able to crack RIM’s encryption code “for interception of Internet messages from BlackBerry to non-BlackBerry devices”. More in At last, govt cracks BlackBerry code in The Economic Times. The ban threats have resumed again, and RIM has reportedly agreed to comply with the Indian government’s requests (see ‘RIM to address India’s security concerns: report‘ on MarketWatch).

RIM also declined to disclose details of talks it has had with regulators in the more than 175 countries where it operates, according to an AP report.
Ron Deibert, director of the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, who helped colleagues uncover a plot against the Indian government that involved computers in China:

It’s the type of thing that will become more common for RIM as they grapple with public policy and ethical issues in emerging markets.

More in BlackBerry Challenges May Spread as Governments, RIM Collide on Bloomberg.

When a country’s laws require access to all communication, including encrypted communication, companies offering those services (or rather, companies that are allowed to offer those services) must comply. Given there’s a probable cause, legal snooping by governments shouldn’t be a cause for alarm. What’s probably more interesting, and a subject of ongoing debates, is how such snooping capabilities are used and the controls in place to prevent misuse of such capabilities.

In a world where we’re happy to broadcast our most intimate details on social networking sites, the right to privacy almost seems like a relic from the past, and expectations of privacy are quickly disappearing.

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