Saudi Arabia orders a ban on BlackBerry services
Government wary of device’s ability to encrypt data
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia is ordering its mobile operators to halt BlackBerry services throughout the kingdom this week, heightening tensions between device maker
The Saudi state news agency SPA said in a report late yesterday that the country’s telecom regulator has informed mobile service providers in the country that they must halt BlackBerry services starting Friday.
The regulator, known as the Communications and Information Technology Commission, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment to provide details of the ban or say how it would be enforced.
It said the suspension of service was being implemented because BlackBerry service “in its present state does not meet regulatory requirements,’’ according to the SPA report.
RIM could not immediately be reached for comment.
Word of the ban comes just days after the neighboring United Arab Emirates announced it was planning to shut down e-mail, messaging, and Web browsing on BlackBerrys starting in October.
India is also in talks with RIM over how information is managed on the devices.
Like the UAE, it has cited security concerns in pushing for greater access to encrypted information sent by the phones that gets routed through the Canadian company’s computers overseas.
Saudi Arabia did not spell out its concerns about the devices, though its government is also wary of security threats. As in the UAE, Saudi BlackBerry devices are popular both among businesspeople and youth who see the phones’ relatively secure communication features as a way to avoid attention from the authorities.
Earlier yesterday, RIM denied that it had agreed to heightened surveillance of its corporate clients by the Indian government, as talks continue over access to e-mails and other data sent on the devices.
“We won’t compromise on the security architecture of our corporate e-mails,’’ said RIM’s spokesman in India, Satchit Gayakwad. “We respect the requirements of regulatory bodies in terms of security, but we also look at the customer’s need for privacy.’’
India’s internal security chief, U.K. Bansal, told reporters last week he hoped the issue of BlackBerry monitoring would be sorted out soon, after widespread reports that the government had threatened to ban the devices.
Analysts say RIM’s expansion into fast-growing emerging markets — and the UAE’s recent public showdown with the company — is threatening to set off a wave of regulatory challenges, as RIM’s commitment to information security rubs up against the desires of law enforcement in each country.
RIM has said its discussions with the more than 175 countries where it operates are private.
India and the UAE aren’t alone in wanting more control over BlackBerry messaging. Bahrain has threatened to crack down on spreading news using the devices. And industry analysts say they believe RIM offered China some concessions before the BlackBerry was introduced there.