UAE rules set off BlackBerry storm

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“When American citizens travel abroad, of course you’re always aware that you’re no longer within the United States,” Nicole Thompson said.

Also Monday, State Department spokesman Phillip J. Crowley called the impending ban a violation of human rights.

“It’s not about a Canadian company. It’s about what we think is an important element of democracy, human rights, and freedom of information and the flow of information in the 21st century. … We think it sets a dangerous precedent,” he said at a press conference.

The United Arab Emirates Embassy defended its government’s actions and said it wanted the same privilege of having its domestic laws respected that RIM grants to the U.S.

“The State Department’s comments today on the UAE’s announcement to suspend certain BlackBerry services from October 11 are disappointing and contradict the U.S. government’s own approach to communications regulation,” the embassy said in a statement.

“In fact, the UAE is asking for exactly the same regulatory compliance — and with the same principles of judicial and regulatory oversight — that BlackBerry grants the U.S. and other governments and nothing more. Importantly, the UAE requires the same compliance as the U.S. for the very same reasons: to protect national security and to assist in law enforcement. It is regrettable that after several years of discussions, BlackBerry is still not compliant with UAE regulatory requirements even as it complies with similar policies in other countries.”

Greg Nojeim, senior counsel member at the Center for Democracy and Technology, dismissed such claims as a ploy to expand control by governments and said he feared that international Internet technology for everyone would be hampered by restrictions imposed by the most repressive regimes.

“It’s troubling that the U.A.E. would cite American laws as if they justify this conduct; they don’t,” said Mr. Nojeim. “We’re concerned about a race to the bottom. When countries that follow the rule of law expand their authorities post-9/11, other countries with poor human rights records are citing those expansions to justify their own surveillance.”

In other examples of government scuffles with companies over international Internet issues, YouTube has been partially blocked in Pakistan and Turkey, and Internet giant Google refused for a time to comply with China’s censorship stipulations. The company’s license to operate within the communist nation was renewed last month, allowing Google to keep its website and operate some Internet services, but giving the Chinese government the right to block certain sites from

Also citing national security interests, nations including Bahrain, Kuwait and India say they want more access to monitor BlackBerry communications.

Mr. Simonite suggested that a BlackBerry ban wouldn’t help authorities in the United Arab Emirates because people engaged in wrongdoing have other tools.

“I suspect that people who are determined to avoid government surveillance could quite easily find another way,” he told The Times. “Having their BlackBerrys taken away won’t necessarily be a big problem for these people.”

Although the United Arab Emirates is a loose confederation of absolute monarchies, it is one of the least repressive regimes in the Arab world. Two of its member emirates in particular — Abu Dhabi and Dubai — have cultivated worldwide reputations as cosmopolitan, business-friendly enclaves. A major spat with the maker of a business device as common as the BlackBerry could damage that image.

According to the Associated Press, the state-owned mobile operator of the United Arab Emirates told BlackBerry users last year to install what it called an upgrade but was really spy software that let authorities see private information. RIM criticized the action by Etisalat and then showed users how to uninstall the system.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author
Kathryn Watson

Kathryn Watson

Kathryn Watson is an intern on the Continuous News Desk. Katie is a senior journalism major at Biola University just outside of Los Angeles, where she serves as the editor-in-chief of her school’s student newspaper, The Chimes.


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