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

Myanmar Fighting Poses Dilemma for China

To gain some insight into conflict, VOA’s Steve Herman spoke with Min Zaw Oo, director of ceasefire negotiation and implementation at Myanmar Peace Center More

Australia Concerned Over Islamic State 'Brides'

Canberra believes there are between 30 and 40 Australian women who have taken part in terror attacks or are supporting the Islamic State terror network More

Recreational Marijuana Use Now Legal in Washington, DC

Law allows adults 21 and over to privately possess and smoke 0.05 kilogram of pot, and to grow small amounts of the plant 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More