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Mystery Continues to Surround UAE BlackBerry Deal


An Emirati couple at the Blackberry stand, at a mobile phone dealer shop in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 08 Oct 2010

An Emirati couple at the Blackberry stand, at a mobile phone dealer shop in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 08 Oct 2010

The United Arab Emirates has announced it will not implement a ban on certain functions of the BlackBerry smartphone following "positive collaboration" with the device's developer Research in Motion (RIM). Details of the agreement, however, remain unclear.

The UAE's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority released a short statement on October 8 saying a proposed ban was lifted because BlackBerry services are now "compliant" with UAE regulations.

The news came just three days before BlackBerry Messenger, email and web browser functions were to be blocked.

UAE officials originally said the services posed a threat to national security because they could not be monitored.

Telecoms research analyst at IHS Global Insight Shardul Shrimani believes RIM has agreed to provide the UAE with limited data in extreme circumstances.

"RIM's core business model depends on the security of its data transmission, so if they had allowed the UAE government full access, that would have really gone against them and really knocked confidence of business users. So, this is definitely some sort of middle ground," said Shrimani.

President of Filler Security Strategies Joshua Filler says it could take months to know the exact details of the compromise. "I would guess that they [RIM] have given them [UAE government] some sort of a backdoor capability to access these communications," he said.

"That's ultimately what the government wanted. That's what RIM said they didn't want to give them. How big of a backdoor, what it will mean for users, particularly for the corporate users who are really the ones who use encrypted technology, that will start to come out in the weeks and months ahead," he added.

It has been impossible for countries like the UAE to monitor BlackBerry output because the network automatically scrambles messages and stores the data in computers abroad.

A number of nations have expressed security concerns saying the devices could be used in carrying out a terrorist attack. Filler says this is a valid worry.

"You risk the situation where people who have bad intentions are going to exploit it [BlackBerry service] and our ability to provide public safety and homeland security is put at risk. So I do think it's an issue," he said.

"I think we need to have hearings and a discussion on how serious the risk is, what the benefits and downsides could be to dealing with this in the internet environment, which is obviously a different technical environment than a landline or even a cell phone. I do think it's an issue that needs to be explored," he continued.

BlackBerry is still facing potential bans in India. Meanwhile, Kuwait says it has no intention of banning the device, but is talking to RIM about government concerns.

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