Saudi follows UAE in BlackBerry ban

UPDATE 3: Saudi regulator orders telcos to freeze BlackBerry Messenger service this month.
SHOCK DECISION: The UAE’s telecoms regulator has announced that BlackBerry services in the country will be suspended from 11 October. (Getty Images)
By Arabian Business Staff and Reuters
Sun 01 Aug 2010 10:26 AM

Saudi Arabia's telecoms regulator has ordered local operators to freeze the Messenger function for Blackberry users this month, just hours after the UAE said it was suspending BlackBerry services in the country from October.

A board member at state-controlled Saudi Telecom (STC) confirmed the regulator had imposed a ban. Speaking on Al Arabiya television, he said the Kingdom had not gone as far as the UAE, but urged BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM) to reconsider its stance on encrypted data.

"UAE took a bolder step than Saudi Arabia whereas Saudi Arabia is only banning one, the Messenger," said Abdulrahman Mazi. "I hope this is only a kind of pressure on RIM to take steps to provide information when needed."

Earlier on Sunday the UAE announced that BlackBerry services in the country will be suspended from 11 October this year.

The UAE's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) said that the suspension was due to the failure of ongoing attempts since 2007 to bring BlackBerry services in the country in line with local regulations.

"With no solution available and in the public interest, in order to affect resolution of this issue, as of October 11, 2010, Blackberry Messenger, Blackberry Email and Blackberry Web-browsing services will be suspended until an acceptable solution can be developed and applied," TRA director general Mohamed Al Ghanim said in a statement.

"The TRA notes that Blackberry appears to be compliant in similar regulatory environments of other countries, which makes non-compliance in the UAE both disappointing and of great concern."

Speaking to newswire Reuters, Al Ghanim denied that the move was for the purposes of state censorship.

"It's a final decision but we are continuing discussions with them," he said. "Censorship has got nothing to do with this. What we are talking about is suspension due to the lack of compliance with UAE telecommunications regulations."

BlackBerry devices, introduced in the UAE in 2006, allow users to send messages that can’t be monitored as allowed for under the country’s 2007 Safety, Emergency and National Security rules, the regulator said last week.

Although such communications should fall under the remit of that law, technical encryption allowed them to avoid monitoring, it said Sunday.

UAE telcos Etisalat and du were informed of the TRA’s decision on Sunday. They were also instructed to ensure minimal consumer disruption in the provision of alternative services.

“All Blackberry services fall within the UAE regulatory framework developed by the TRA since 2007, however because of Blackberry's technical configuration, some Blackberry services operate beyond the enforcement of these regulations,” said a statement issued by the TRA.

“Blackberry data is immediately exported off-shore, where it is managed by a foreign, commercial organization. Blackberry data services are currently the only data services operating in the UAE where this is the case.

“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.”

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