UAE Decision to Cancel BlackBerry Services, Causes Uncertainty and Economic Fallout

Commercial News » Commercial Real Estate Edition | By Alma Kadragic | August 3, 2010 9:33 AM ET

(ABU DHABI, UAE) -- Many BlackBerry users in the UAE have a hard time believing that the service will be truncated on October 11, reducing the device to a simple mobile with no email, internet, or messaging capacity. With 500,000 subscribers in a population of more than six million, penetration is the highest in the Middle East as the BlackBerry has spread among business and individual users since its introduction in the UAE in 2007.

However, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) insists that it will go through with the ban because encrypted messages sent by BlackBerry "allow users to act without any legal accountability, causing judicial, social, and national security concerns." The messages go to servers in the US and Canada which means that authorities in other countries cannot access them.

Mohammed al Ghanem, head of TRA, said yesterday,  "In the public interest, we have today informed the providers of telecommunications services in the country of our decision to suspend the Blackberry services of messenger, email, and electronic browsing."

Today, etisalat and du, the two government-owned telecommunications providers that share the monopoly in the UAE, each ran full page advertorials in the daily papers announcing the suspension of BlackBerry roaming services from October 11 and explaining that they would stop selling service packages immediately.

The TRA and provider announcements left retailers holding shipments of new BlackBerrys and accessories. They have no recourse now other than to discount prices and to hope that the October 11 cancellation will be lifted soon.

The UAE isn't the first country to complain about the encryption system that has made BlackBerry popular with businesses around the world. There have been previous issues with China, India, Saudi Arabia - which may have already cancelled BlackBerry messaging services as of later this month - Pakistan, among others.

Government complaints are divided between security and political and cultural concerns.  While in many western countries, authorities must obtain legal permission to monitor electronic messages, in some others, that is not the case. Monitoring may be used to prevent demonstrations and sending of information that someone finds objectionable which others see as limiting free speech.


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