Nation/World

UAE moves to restrict BlackBerry use

Saudi Arabia says it also plans to limit smartphones

CAIRO, Egypt – Citing concerns that terrorists and criminals could exploit telecommunications traffic in the Arab world’s financial hub, the United Arab Emirates said Sunday that it would suspend e-mail and Web browsing on BlackBerry services beginning in October.

Shortly after the UAE’s announcement, media reports quoted officials in Saudi Arabia as saying the kingdom would take similar steps to restrict features on the popular BlackBerry smartphones. The decisions could affect up to 1 million BlackBerry users in the region and possibly upset networking for business people and tourists.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia are increasingly worried about terrorism. But the religiously conservative and politically autocratic countries also want tighter controls on information and seek to limit communication options for opposition figures and human-rights activists. Both nations practice censorship and frequently filter websites deemed unacceptable by clerics and their interior ministries.

The UAE’s Telecommunication Regulatory Authority said in a statement on its website that “today’s decision is based on the fact that, in their current form, certain BlackBerry services allow users to act without any legal accountability, causing judicial, social and national security concerns for the UAE.”

The measure stems from UAE authorities seeking stricter oversight of BlackBerry’s system of encrypting data, which provides security for users but is difficult for intelligence agencies to track. It is not expected to affect other devices, such as Apple’s iPhone.

As news of possible restrictions leaked out last week, Reporters Without Borders, which lobbies for wider press freedoms, criticized the UAE.

“The government regards the services offered by BlackBerry, especially its instant messaging, as an obstacle to its goal of reinforcing censorship, filtering and surveillance,” said the organization. “We fear that this statement is designed to prepare the public for a total ban or block on BlackBerry. This would be a serious mistake and utterly inconsistent on the part of a country that aspires to be a technological leader in the Arab world.”

Reporters Without Borders said that in recent weeks the UAE had been “harassing and arresting” BlackBerry Messenger users for attempting to organize a demonstration against higher gasoline prices.

Political analyst Ibtisam Ketbi told Dubai media that the UAE government was looking to clamp down on political expression.

“This is a sign we’re heading toward a stricter and more conservative regime, whereas the rest of the world is opening up, especially in the information technology field,” he said.



Click here to comment on this story »




Saving for the future

sponsored According to two 2015 surveys, 62 percent of Americans do not have enough savings to handle an unexpected emergency, much less any long-term plans.



Sections


Profile

Contact the Spokesman

Main switchboard:
(509) 459-5000
Customer service:
(800) 338-8801
Newsroom:
(509) 459-5400
(800) 789-0029
Back to Spokesman Mobile