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Agreement ‘in sight’ to avert BlackBerry ban

by Sarah Griffiths on 9 August 2010, 15:44


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Agreement anticipated

Saudi officials have signalled an agreement to prevent the banning of BlackBerry functions in Saudi Arabia is ‘in sight'.

Users of BlackBerrys in Saudi Arabia are waiting for an agreement to be reached between BlackBerry manufacturer Research in Motion (RIM) and officials in the country to see whether they will be able to continue using the BlackBerry's secure IM capabilities.

Saudi Arabia planned to ban functions on the phone last Friday due to BlackBerrys' encrypted message service, which it cannot currently monitor.  Saudi Arabia along with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and a handful of other countries have said the encrypted service poses security concerns.

Officials told the BBC a ‘deal was likely' where authorities would be able to access messages sent between and from BlackBerry handsets, despite RIM dismissing Gulf concessions last week.

According to AFP news agency, an official with a licensed mobile operator in the country, said: "A deal has been virtually reached and we are in the process of adding the final touches."

One official reportedly told the news agency that tests were taking place to see if a server located in the country would work, as rumours suggest a Saudi-based server could form part of the deal.

Currently, BlackBerry's encrypted data is located in Canada to prevent third-party monitoring, which Saudi Arabia said does "not meet the regulatory criteria of the commission and licensing conditions."

According to reports, the 700,000 BlackBerry users in Saudi Arabia experienced a problem with the messaging service for four hours on Friday but it then resumed.

A decision to allow official access to encrypted BlackBerry messages could have huge consequences, as other countries such as India and the UAE have put pressure on the company to relax its encryption security. 

The UAE has previously said it plans to ban Blackberry email, web browsing and messaging in October, although Oman has no plans to block BlackBerry devices, according to Reuters.

Its telecoms regulatory authority told ONA news agency that offering the services was one part of its "philosophy of free market in the sector."

US secretary of state Hilary Clinton waded into the BlackBerry ban debate in the Gulf on Friday by holding talks with the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Clinton said the UAE government must balance "legitimate security concerns" with "right of free use and access," according to the BBC.

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