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UAE Government Frets About BlackBerrys, Threatens Ban

Dubai RIM

Chalk this one up under "worrying governmental attitudes to tech": The authorities in the UAE are making very public noises about RIM's BlackBerry smartphones. Apparently they're a threat to national security.

Late yesterday the United Arab Emirates Telecommunications Regulatory Authority noted that BlackBerrys operate "beyond" national jurisdiction because their core mechanism for delivering email is operated and managed by a non-Dubai company. The main concern is simple: "In their current form" BlackBerrys enable all sorts of communications tricks that could have "serious social, judicial and national security repercussions."

The telltale sign that this is wicked propaganda rather than more carefully balanced logic is that the TRA thinks BlackBerry's allow UAE residents "to misuse" the nation's phone networks. By misuse, the TRA means use the devices in ways that contravene the nation's strict censorial control over its population, or at least that use of BlackBerrys may let folks be nefarious without being traceable. Remember a year ago the government tried to sneak spyware onto BlackBerry phones, under the guise of being a mandatory system software update. RIM reacted by distancing itself from the national operator, and even linking users to instructions for removing the malicious code.

The TRA also had a veiled threat in these statements—the words "current form" in particular imply that the TRA may force RIM to modify its hardware or software in the future. The Authority notes that BlackBerry's arrived before "safety, emergency and national security legislation" arrived in 2007, which is a gentle slight against RIM, almost alleging the Canadian firm snuck BlackBerry's into the country. It indicated it, "like many other countries" has been worried enough by the matter it's trying to find "a solution that safeguards our consumers."

Is this another case of censorship run amok? Is the UAE taking courage from the recent crazy (from a free speech point of view) censorship moves inside Iran, China, Pakistan, and Australia?

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