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The UAE government announced that “BlackBerry is operating beyond the reach of UAE law”, casting doubt on the future of the popular mobile e-mail and messaging service in the Emirates. The BlackBerry offers data communication encrypted using one of the world’s most complex security codes and is operated by the device’s Canadian maker, Research In Motion (RIM). About 500,000 residents subscribe to the service in the Emirates, in addition to visitors on business or holiday, equating to a penetration rate of about 11 per cent, one of the highest in the world.

 

“BlackBerry operates beyond the jurisdiction of national legislation, since it is the only device operating in the UAE that immediately exports its data offshore and is managed by a foreign, commercial organisation,” the Government said in a statement on the official news service, WAM. “As a result of how BlackBerry data is managed and stored, in their current form, certain BlackBerry applications allow people to misuse the service, causing serious social, judicial and national security repercussions.”

 

The statement comes after recent investigations into security issues posed by the use of BlackBerry technology by regulatory authorities in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. This month a survey of BlackBerry subscribers commissioned by WAM found that there were “concerns” about the safety of data among UAE consumers. Three-quarters of the survey respondents said they would be worried if their e-mails were being stored by an independent organisation outside the UAE.

 

In Kuwait, the Arab Times newspaper reported in May that the ministry of interior was planning to stop the BlackBerry Messenger service because neither the ministry of communications nor security authorities had access to the encryption codes. But it is not clear whether the service has been blocked as the country’s three telecoms operators have not received any request from the ministry to enforce a ban on the message service.

 

July 26, 2010

 

 

Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk

 

The announcement by the UAE government  about the possible banning of BlackBerry is not new as concerns have been expressed in the past. However, the recent statement is the strongest yet. It sends worrying messages on two fronts. The first is that the UAE government is in the habit of monitoring electronic communications going out and into the country. The second sends negative signals to the business community. Whilst it is known that the UAE authorities regularly monitor communications, banning the Blackberry on the grounds of the inability to monitor communications contributes to the making the state appear more like a “police state”. This sends the wrong signals to investors, at a time when the country is struggling to attract foreign investments, particularly after the Dubai crash.

 

As this announcement will affect 11% of the population, who rely heavily on Blackberry for regular business operations, implementing such a ban can be damaging to the overall image of the country on both fronts, being portrayed as a “police state” and making it more difficult to conduct and operate business.