The UAE’s Blackberry Showdown


emirates.jpgThe news Saturday that after years of failed negotiations the United Arab Emirates will ban the data and email service on Blackberry phones after October 11 without an agreement allowing the Emirates to monitor the currently encrypted data raises fascinating questions about how authoritarian governments cope with emerging technologies.
While the UAE government has argued that security concerns and national sovereignty allow it to set rules regulating commerce, American officials and NGO’s alike have cried foul over the human rights implications of the forthcoming ban. From an Al Jazeera article on the subject:

As they stand, BlackBerry services allow users to “commit violations without being subject to legal accountability,” the UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) said in a statement on Sunday.
Some have accused the UAE of trying to censor BlackBerry phones because the government cannot easily monitor them…
…After the TRA warned in July that BlackBerry phones posed a threat to national security, Reporters Without Borders accused the UAEof viewing BlackBerry services “as an obstacle to its goal of reinforcing censorship, filtering and surveillance”.
The group said that a ban or block on the BlackBerry would be “a serious mistake and utterly inconsistent on the part of a country that aspires to be a technological leader in the Arab world”.

But the problem is not just one of freedom, though that is a serious issue; it is also about the Emirates’ economic viability. While it seems that the estimated 500,000 Emirati Blackberry users may learn, with a sigh of regret, to deal with the ban, it is less clear how the nearly 100,000 visitors who pass through or stop in the Emirates daily will deal with a sudden gap in their email and a slow-down to their ability to do business.
While people often talk about bans of YouTube and Facebook, the Blackberry ban could put a real dent in the Emirates’ competitiveness globally. And while I doubt this move will kill the Emirates’ role as a commercial and travel hub, it could cause some people to take their travel and operations elsewhere. Coming on the tails of Dubai’s real estate crash, any reduction in the flow of travelers and others could be enough to cause damage, to not only the Emirates’ money flow but also to their image. As Jonathan Shainin, a former editor of the UAE’s The National newspaper noted on twitter, “All I need to know about the proposed BlackBerry ban is that it makes the UAE look foolish.”
It will be interesting in the coming months to see who blinks first, and whether or not the power of mass communications are enough to sway governments trying to balance a globalized existence with closed government.
— Andrew Lebovich


9 comments on “The UAE’s Blackberry Showdown

  1. Khawar Nehal says:

    The TRA, du and Etisalat have perfectly good alternatives to using the RIM servers to deliver services.
    I do not see any reason for them to be forced to use RIM’s servers in another country outside their jurisdiction and control.
    Since Canada is not willing to allow TRA to monitor internal UAE communications, hence the ban.
    As soon as the ban is implemented the users can be provided with similar and in some cases more enhanced services just by allowing the users to servers hosted inside the UAE.
    It Canada’s RIM which is trying to keep control of the services in a market where alternatives are available.
    After UAE successfully becomes independent of Canada’s servers, then other countries shall be able to follow Dubai’s leading example and also be able to offer more versatile services just by changing the software on the phones and the servers they communicate with.
    Better software and management = Better services.
    With the option to locally monitor.
    Most of the existing users would welcome such a move.
    My opinion. You are entitled to yours.
    Khawar Nehal


  2. erichwwk says:

    A case of the pot calling the kettle black?
    “An organization that tracks 250 million IP addresses a day has been developing portfolios on Internet users and handing the information to U.S. federal agencies as the latest incarnation of the supposedly defunct Total Information Awareness spy program is revealed.”
    “By hiring private companies to do the dirty work of spying on the American people, Congressional audits can be avoided and legal barriers can be sidestepped.
    “Project Vigilant is clearly nothing less than a government controlled attack dog fulfilling its role to implement the cybersecurity agenda, which as we have exhaustively documented has nothing to do with security and everything to do with political oppression, Chinese style Internet censorship, and the total evisceration of free speech on the world wide web.”


  3. b says:

    The UAE is blocking Blackberry traffic because it knows that the USisrael has access to to the Blackberry servers and spies on that data.
    Makes a lot of sense actually.


  4. M says:

    The “solution” will be worldwide censorship and control of the web, and you can be sure it’s coming. Don’t count on people like Obama to stand against it, either: he’s already shown which side he’s on. Welcome to your brave new world.


  5. Pahalvan says:

    I thought UAE’s concern was having their communications run on servers residing in the US and Canada. Can you blame a country for not wanting to have all its communication data mined by another?
    And talking about how “authoritarian countries cope with technology”, when you use your GPS system here in America, your physical location is not only tracked real time, but it


  6. DonS says:

    I was wondering the same thing John H. The UAE stifles communications at the front end, and the US (and GB and how many others?) entraps communications after the fact.


  7. JohnH says:

    More US government hypocrisy–Obama authorizes FBI to tap people’s emails, but when the UAE demands the same privileges, “American officials and NGO’s alike have cried foul over the human rights implications of the forthcoming ban.”
    Maybe the US government should start leading by example and restore everyone’s 4th Amendment right to privacy…
    Disgusting that the UAE’s actions should attract more media attention than Obama’s assault on Americans’ constitutional rights.


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