Saudi Arabia to ban BlackBerry service on Friday

The ban covers all BlackBerry applications, including e-mail and instant messaging

Saudi Arabia has ordered the suspension of Research in Motion's BlackBerry service as of Friday, as it does not meet current regulations, according to the country's telecommunications regulator.

The suspension will cover all services, including e-mail and instant messaging, said an official from the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC), who requested not to be named. He did not specify what were the current local regulations that BlackBerry did not comply with.

The CITC has meanwhile instructed three mobile service providers in the kingdom to discontinue the BlackBerry service, the official said. These are Etihad Etisalat, which uses the brand name Mobily, Saudi Telecom Company (STC) and Zain Saudi Arabia. The operators had been asked over a year ago to ensure that the BlackBerry service complied with local rules, he said.

RIM's BlackBerry service has come under scrutiny from regulators in other countries as well.

BlackBerry's service is to be suspended in neighboring United Arab Emirates (UAE) from Oct. 11 because it does not fall in line with the country's regulations, the UAE telecommunications regulator said on Sunday.

The suspension of the BlackBerry service in the UAE and Saudi Arabia will affect business users who have come to count on the devices for private and secure business communications, said Matthew Reed, who heads research on wireless telecommunications in the Middle East and Africa for Informa Telecoms & Media.

There are currently between 500,000 to 600,000 BlackBerry users in the UAE, with Saudi Arabia likely to account for another 700,000, according to Reed.

RIM is in a tight spot because if it is seen to compromise with governments on security and privacy, BlackBerry will lose its attractiveness to customers, Reed said. RIM could probably disregard one country like the UAE, even though it is an important market, but now the issue has escalated, he added.

RIM is also in negotiations with the Indian government over the country's demands that security agencies should be able to intercept BlackBerry data. RIM's spokesman in India did not comment on the discussions and described them as confidential.

In a customer update earlier this week circulated to the media, RIM said that it does not possess a "master key," nor does any "back door" exist in the system that would allow RIM or any third party to gain unauthorized access to the encryption key or corporate data. The symmetric key system used in the BlackBerry security architecture for enterprise customers ensures that only the customer possesses a copy of the encryption key.

The UAE government regards the service offered by BlackBerry, specifically its instant messaging application, as an obstacle to its censorship and surveillance programs, Reporters Without Borders said last week. The UAE's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) complained that BlackBerry data from the UAE was being sent out of the country and managed by a foreign commercial organization.

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