The UAE and Saudi Arabia have both banned services to Canadian Research in Motion's Blackberry citing security risks. The Saudi Arabia ban took effect today, while the UAE ban will roll out in October. Saudi Arabian officials complained, "This service might be used to serve terrorism."
Critics of the ban say that citizens have the right to privacy -- even from the government. At issue is the fact that RIM encrypts its communications so well, that it's hard to remotely gain access to it. This has frustrated government officials of certain countries in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Gatot Dewabroto, spokesman for the Ministry of Communication and Information in Indonesia, speaking with the Associated Press, today announced that his country was considering a ban on BlackBerry services. He comments, "We don't know whether data being sent through BlackBerrys can be intercepted or read by third parties outside the country."
Currently India is also considering a ban. That means that two of the largest developing nations may cut Blackberry access. Like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, they cite "security risks" -- which essentially short for their frustration that RIM doesn't want to help compromise its customers.
Responding in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Research In Motion Ltd. co-CEO Michael Lazaridis was unapologetic, blasting his company's critics. He remarked, "This is about the Internet. Everything on the Internet is encrypted. This is not a BlackBerry-only issue. If they can't deal with the Internet, they should shut it off."
RIM, based out of Waterloo, Ontario, finds itself in a precarious position with the bans. If it doesn't give in, it may lose global market share, at a time its already struggling to release competitive hardware amid hot products like the iPhone 4 and HTC EVO 4G Android smart phone. On the other hand, if it gives in to the foreign demands, it would likely seriously damage its strong reputation for security, which has helped it sell scores of smart phones to businesses around the world.
Still, Mr. Lazaridis is convinced he can negotiate other countries out of further service severances. He states, "We have dealt with this before. This will get resolved. And it will get resolved if there is a chance for rational discussion."
Mohammed Al Ghanem, director general of the U.A.E.'s telecom regulator, says the decision "to suspend certain BlackBerry services from October 11 is final," but adds, "We remain open to discussions in order that an acceptable, regulatory-compliant solution might be developed and applied."
Mr. Lazaridis clarifies that his company is happy to cooperate with court-ordered requests to intercept individuals communications. In these cases his company will hand them the encrypted stream, but will not help decrypt it, which he feels would be violating his customers' privacy. He states, "I would give them the encrypted stream. It would have to be like a wiretap."
He adds, "We are going to continue to work with them to make sure they understand the reality of the Internet. A lot of these people don't have Ph.Ds, and they don't have a degree in computer science."
Mr. Lazaridis also does not have a Ph.D in computer science. In fact he dropped out of college in 1979 to pursue entrepreneurial ventures, founding RIM in 1984. In 2000 he was awarded an honorary degree. While he might not have a Ph.D, he could hold his own with most computer science and computer engineering Ph.Ds, having filed for over 50 patents over his prolific career.