- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2010

Planning to take your faithful BlackBerry along on a trip to the United Arab Emirates? Think again.

The showdown between the Middle Eastern nation and the makers of the popular electronic devices escalated Monday, with Research in Motion (RIM) assuring its customers that it would not alter its security methods, while the United Arab Emirates said its BlackBerry ban, though it won’t cover phone calls, also will apply to Americans and other foreign visitors.

The State Department on Monday said the impending ban sets a “dangerous precedent,” a statement that prompted a volley back from the United Arab Emirates Embassy in Washington.

The dispute started Sunday, when the United Arab Emirates government announced that it would block RIM’s service to the half-million local users, citing the company’s repeated failure to comply with national security rules.

“The suspension is a result of the failure of ongoing attempts, dating back to 2007, to bring BlackBerry services in the UAE in line with telecommunications regulations,” a press release on the country’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority site said, adding that the termination is set for Oct. 11.

Saudi Arabia has announced similar intentions for its 700,000 BlackBerry users, but the United Arab Emirates has becomes the focus of attention.

The basic dispute involves BlackBerry’s use of satellites rather than domestic routers to send e-mail and text-message data, which makes it harder for a law-enforcement agency or other outside party to monitor. Also, the company encrypts the data and can’t even access it itself.

As a result, the BlackBerry is prized for its security. The ban covers only those devices and not such rivals as iPhones.

“One thing that is different with a BlackBerry is that even e-mails sent between two users inside the U.A.E. — for example, workers for a Dubai company — pass through RIM servers elsewhere in the world,” said Tom Simonite, computing editor at Technology Review. “By contrast, using an iPhone in the same way probably wouldn’t see e-mails leave the country.”

An official at the United Arab Emirates Embassy told The Washington Times on the condition of anonymity that the BlackBerry’s method is “a complete blind spot to legal jurisdiction.”

But in a statement Monday, Research in Motion assured the other 40 million BlackBerry users worldwide that it wasn’t backing down. It said the company “will not compromise the integrity and security of the BlackBerry Enterprise Solution.” Not even RIM has the ability to access its customers’ private data, the release said.

The company said most of the world accepts its security protocols, which make it much harder for an outsider — whether a domestic police officer, a foreign spy or a rival businessman, as the technology issues are the same — to eavesdrop or collect data transmitted on the company’s network.

RIM “provides a security architecture that is widely accepted by security-conscious customers and governments around the world,” the statement said. “RIM respects both the regulatory requirements of government and the security and privacy needs of corporations and consumers.”

The company said the United Arab Emirates and other governments “have a wide range of resources and methodologies to satisfy national-security and law-enforcement needs without compromising commercial security requirements.”

The dispute reached diplomatic circles Monday, although the State Department issued no specific travel warnings or advisories to the United Arab Emirates as a result. Nevertheless, a State Department spokeswoman told The Times that the ban is “disappointing.”

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