On Sunday an official statement was released by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) confirming that certain mobile features for the BlackBerry device including mobile email, messaging, and mobile web browsing will be blocked by government authorities.
The ban will officially go into effect beginning on October 11, 2010. The government claims that because BlackBerry's smart phones routes information to their own secure data center the devices do not allow their regulatory agency to monitor the communication and control the flow of information that can occur over their network and so they claim that the device's features were “causing judicial, social and national security concerns for the UAE”. The statement also refers to the long battle between the UAE and the makers of the BlackBerry, Research In Motion, Ltd . (RIM) since 2007 when efforts to bring the popular phone into submission under the government's guidelines began.
The main issue at hand concerns the way in which information transmitted and accessed by BlackBerry mobile phones is stored. Since the information is sent through a central processor outside of the local government's territory the government is unable to control the information as it has done with other communication avenues. The UAE and RIM have been battling over these issues for sometime and the ban comes nearly a year after an attempt to install spyware on BlackBerry devices that would have allowed the government to intercept messages without the knowledge of mobile users went awry. To date, RIM has refused to give the UAE its encryption codes that would allow the government to eavesdrop on users.
Saudi Arabia likewise seems to be following suit with its own plans to ban the messaging services associated with the BlackBerry later in August. Other countries in the Middle East may also follow suit, although Qatar will not join in the ban as they have announced that they do not currently have any plans to ban the device nor do they see any legal reason to do so.The ban may have a bit of a diplomatic back lash as the move received harsh criticism from the Obama Administration for restricting the flow of information in their respective countries.
Of course this is not the first time that government control and the freedom of technology have clashed in recent weeks as Google battled China over that country's mission to keep pornography and other harmful material and content out of their country and even in the US popular blog providers have been shut down over “national security” concerns. For some this is spelling a disturbing trend of censorship and for others it is simply a matter of the law and the needs of a nation to protect itself and its people and those policies trying to catch up to the technology which seems to be growing at a much faster rate than the ability of bureaucratic systems around the world to adapt.