News / Middle East

BlackBerry Ban a Hot Issue in Middle East

Christian Caryl
Christian Caryl

Multimedia

Audio

To ban or not to ban the BlackBerry, that is.   It's been a hot debate in the Middle East for nearly two weeks, ever since the United Arab Emirates announced a ban on messaging and other BlackBerry services, to go into effect in October.  This triggered a round of negotiations with Research in Motion, the Canadian company that makes the BlackBerry. Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Bahrain have weighed in on whether they, too, should ban BlackBerry messaging.

The problem is that Blackberry encrypts its messages, and governments want access to encrypted information. Christian Caryl is a Senior Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology's Center for International Studies and a Contributing Editor to Foreign Policy magazine.

Caryl: Well, I think it's that governments around the Gulf do actually keep a very close watch on their populations and on people coming in and out of their countries.  There are problems in the Gulf with terrorism, organized crime.   There are all sorts of security problems.

And then there are problems that we in the West would perhaps regard as a little less legitimate, like the simple desire of authoritarian governments to keep tabs on what their people are thinking and doing.  There have been these concerns about BlackBerries for some time.

It's really been in the wake of the al-Mabhouh thing that the talk has really translated into concrete action and some of these governments have really started to get very tough on RIM, the company behind BlackBerry.   

Hilleary: You're talking about the Hamas Commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, who was killed in a Dubai hotel last January.

Caryl: There's been some talk that the people who killed Mahbouh were using Blackberries.   We've never been able to get that substantiated, but it does crop up in some of the commentaries.

Hilleary: There seems to have been somewhat of a tight lid on negotiations between RIM and the governments of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. One reads that the governments would like access to codes that would help them read encrypted messages.  And there have been reports that RIM has actually given these codes to the United States and other governments.   What do you know about this?

Caryl: That's certainly what a lot of people say. It's very, very hard to get to the truth of that matter. RIM denies, of course, that they've given any privileged information to any governments. They deny completely having given any kind of cipher keys or whatever encryption keys you would need to "crack" their encryption.

But, you know, this version that RIM has done deals with some governments just persists.  There's talk that they've knuckled under to the Chinese and a couple of other governments. 

And I was very struck in my research for this piece to see that the loudest complaints are actually coming from the Indians, because the Indians say that the terrorists who attacked in Mumbai in 2008 used BlackBerries for their communications, and the Indian authorities could not listen in to what they were saying.  I don't know if that's true, but that's what we hear. 

And the Indians are very, very worked up about this and say, "Well,  you know, the Chinese have had this capability to listen in on BlackBerry communications for years-there's a double standard."  That's what they say, but again, RIM has been keeping its cards very close to its chest on this matter and has not been particularly eager to address any of these issues publically.   

I don't know-I'd be surprised if they didn't find some sort of modus vivendi with the Saudis.  It's very interesting to watch this from without because RIM is saying,  "Oh, we don't make deals with people on encryption, and yet they've been negotiating with the Saudis about something. 

And suddenly within the past few days, the Saudis said, "Oh, well, maybe we won't ban BlackBerry use after all."  And within just the past few days we've been hearing some slightly more conciliatory things from the UAE.  You kind of wonder.

See related video report by Mil Arcega:

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs