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  (Source: Photo by Kamran Jebreili / Associated Press)
Gulf countries to halt BlackBerry services, citing national security fears

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates announced they would be blocking certain services -- Blackberry Messenger, e-mail, and Web browsing -- on Blackberry devices because data exchanged between devices can't be traced, Reuters reported.

"Certain BlackBerry services allow users to act without any legal accountability, causing judicial, social and national security concerns," the United Arab Emirates' Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) said in a statement.

The data can't be traced by local authorities because it is encrypted and sent to offshore servers, frightening authorities who say that it is a threat to national security. India, Bahrain, and France have all expressed concern over the services in the past, as well. 

The U.A.E., which contains economic powerhouse Dubai, will be suspending Blackberry services as of October, while Saudi Arabia is believed to be halting them this month.

"Censorship has got nothing to do with this," Mohammed Al Ghanem, director general of the UAE's TRA, told Reuters

The concerns center particularly on Research In Motion's Blackberry devices, because similar handsets from Nokia and Apple do not route data traffic the same way.

According to the
The Washington Post, the ban will also apply to visitors to the country.

 

RIM responded to the concerns yesterday by issuing a statement to assure customers their data was safe, even from government wrenching, The Wall Street Journal reported. An excerpt from the report:

RIM said the BlackBerry network was set up so that "no one, including RIM, could access'' customer data, which is encrypted from the time it leaves the device. It added RIM would "simply be unable to accommodate any request'' for a key to decrypt the data, since the company doesn't have the key.

According to Reuters, RIM has more than 41 million Blackberry users worldwide. The ban by U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia, which, when combined, have an estimated 1.2 million users, would affect roughly 3 percent of Blackberry users.

"The UAE market in and of itself is not significant to RIM. A bigger concern would be if it runs into similar issues in a large market such as China, which has similar security concerns, as Google is well aware of," an analyst told Reuters.

The controversy comes just days after rumors of an iPad challenger from RIM began swirling. The tablet device, dubbed the "Blackpad," is expected to get an official announcement from the Canadian company today.





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