RIM should protect governments against themselves

Steve Hodgkinson/Ovum
09 Aug 2010

Several countries in the Middle East have threatened to ban the BlackBerry service because it enables citizens to have secret conversations and peruse the web with privacy. This will be the start of a test of RIM’s commitment to maintaining a global secure email service. However, governments should be careful what they wish for. After all, their own staff are BlackBerry users as well.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) issued a self-titled “important announcement” on 2 August stating that it proposed to suspend BlackBerry messenger, email, and web-browsing services from 11 October. This was the latest development in an apparently long-running discussion between the UAE government and the Canadian company Research in Motion (RIM) that operates the BlackBerry service.

The TRA adopted this position because RIM’s secure telecommunications service prevented the UAE government from monitoring messages and emails, and restricting access to forbidden web content.

The Saudi Arabian Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) followed suit within a few days, announcing a ban on BlackBerry service to be put into effect by 5 August. This follows similar discussions between RIM and the governments of China and India earlier in the year.

The announcements have provoked a storm of discussion. That all countries conduct surveillance on their citizens is not disputed. The difference is the degree to which the people can hold the government to account for abuse of its powers of surveillance. Countries vary considerably in the manner in which the balance between citizen interests and state interests is defined – with dictatorships on the one extreme and liberal democracies on the other.

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