Multi-billionaires in Dubai and Abu Dhabi may soon have more trouble doing business on the go, as officials in the United Arab Emirates have announced that as of October, BlackBerry users will no longer be able to send e-mails or instant messages within the country. As the New York Times reports, Sunday’s announcement comes after a lengthy standoff between the Middle East nation and Research in Motion (RIM), which produces the BlackBerry. Because encrypted data sent via BlackBerrys are automatically routed to servers located outside of the UAE, it’s difficult for Emirate authorities to monitor user activity. RIM has thus far refused to meet the UAE’s demands, although the looming threat of a ban, as the country’s telecom regulator told the BBC, will certainly put the Canadian company under serious pressure.
Should the ban go into effect, it could severely hamper RIM’s business not only in the UAE, which boasts an estimated 500,000 BlackBerry users, but throughout the Middle East as well. Authorities in Saudi Arabia, for example, are already planning on instituting a ban on BBs next month, while regulators in Kuwait and Bahrain have begun raising similar concerns over RIM’s services.
Mohammed al-Ghanem, director general of UAE’s telecom regulatory body, claims that “censorship has got nothing to do with” Sunday’s decision, and cited RIM’s “lack of compliance with UAE telecommunications regulations” as the decisive factor. And, considering the UAE’s history of electronic monitoring, its hardened stance isn’t all that surprising. Although the country has developed into a hub of global finance, it’s “never been a place that offered much in the way of electronic privacy,” says Dubai scholar and author Jim Krane. After the January assassination of a Palestinian operative in a Dubai hotel, the government only ramped up security and began more closely monitoring messages sent within its borders.
RIM now finds itself in a precarious spot. The circumstances, at first glance, may seem similar to Google’s lingering dispute with China. Unlike search engines, though, smartphones are, by definition, used primarily to facilitate direct communication among businessmen, politicians, or, perhaps, militant extremists. It’s understandable that RIM wouldn’t want the rest of the world to see it “cave in” to a regime, but doing business worldwide means dealing with multitudinous cultures and practices.