Gulf ban hits 1m Blackberries

City A.M. Reporter
OVER a million BlackBerry users face being cut off from key services in Saudi Arabia and the UAE after authorities stepped up demands on maker Research In Motion for access to encrypted messages sent on the smartphone.

BlackBerry’s Messenger application has spread rapidly in the Gulf Arab region but because the data is encrypted and sent to offshore servers, it cannot be tracked locally. “Certain BlackBerry services allow users to act without any legal accountability, causing judicial, social and national security concerns,” the UAE regulator said in a statement.

The UAE will suspend BlackBerry Messenger, email and web browser services from 11 October until a fix is found, while industry sources said Saudi Arabia had ordered local telecom firms to freeze Messenger this month. Yesterday’s moves cap a period of wrangling with regulators over the issue which began in 2007. India raised similar security concerns last week and Bahrain in April warned against using BlackBerry Messenger to distribute local news. As far back as 2007, France cautioned officials about using the services.

Users of the device said the move could mean disruptions for companies and individuals who rely on the services, including almost 700,000 in Saudi Arabia and some 500,000 in the UAE.

Authorities noted there is no such problem with services on smartphones from Nokia or Apple’s iPhone.

RIM has over 41m BlackBerry subscribers around the world.