BlackBerry data ban has no exceptions
UAE’s crackdown hitting visitors, too
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The looming crackdown on BlackBerry services in the United Arab Emirates will extend to foreign visitors, putting the government’s concerns over the smartphones in direct conflict with the country’s ambitions to be a business and tourism haven.
The Emirates’ telecoms regulator said yesterday that travelers to the city-state of Dubai and the important oil industry center of Abu Dhabi will — like 500,000 local subscribers — have to do without BlackBerry e-mail, messaging, and Web services starting Oct. 11, even when they carry phones issued in other countries. The handsets themselves will still be allowed for phone calls.
Emirati authorities say the move is based on security concerns because BlackBerry data are automatically shipped to company computers abroad, where it is difficult for local authorities to monitor for illegal activity or abuse.
Critics of the crackdown say it is also a way for the country’s conservative government to further control content it deems politically or morally objectionable.
About 100,000 travelers pass through Dubai’s airport every day, making it the busiest in the Middle East.
The new restrictions could leave time-pressed business travelers hurrying through, many of them changing planes for other destinations, without access to their e-mail or the Web.
In Washington, US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley called such technological restrictions “a move in the wrong direction.’’
“We’re going to clarify with the UAE what’s behind this announcement, but we think it sets a dangerous precedent,’’ Crowley told reporters. “It is our view that you should be opening up societies to these new technologies that have the opportunity to empower people.’’
The group Reporters Without Borders urged the government to lift its ban and reach a compromise “that does not limit the freedom of the Emirati population.
BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd., of Canada, defended its security system as “widely accepted by security-conscious customers and governments around the world.’’
The Emirates’ ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al Otaiba, said the federation was merely asking RIM to comply with its regulations.