Gulf states move on BlackBerry ban

Saudi Arabia is set to follow the United Arab Emirates in banning the use of certain functions of BlackBerry smart phones.

The UAE has confirmed it will ban users of the devices from using email, instant-messaging and web-browsing services in the latest development of a long-running spat over security with the phone’s Canadian maker, Research in Motion (RIM).

UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority said the functions would be banned from October 11th 2010.

“In their current form, certain BlackBerry services allow users to act without any legal accountability, causing judicial, social and national security concerns for the UAE,” read a statement.

Saudi Arabia is now expected to follow suit, with Saudi Telecom expected to ban BlackBerry messenger services in the near future.

The move could put the region’s image as a business-friendly commercial and tourism hub at risk – particularly in the still recovering Dubai.

It remains unclear if the ban will affect only local users or foreign visitors with roaming services.

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Security Fears

Concerns have been increasing across the region over the encryption technology used by BlackBerry devices, which makes it difficult to monitor communications.

BlackBerry networks also transit data offshore, moving it out of the reach of domestic authorities.

India has also raised concerns with RIM. However, Qatar’s telecom regulator this morning confirmed it is “not pursuing” any plan to ban the device.

RIM clashed UAE state-owned mobile operator Etisalat last year, after the UAE organisation launched an update telling more than 145,000 BlackBerry users to install software described as an “upgrade ... required for service enhancements”.

RIM later confirmed tests showed the update was spy software, allowing outsiders to access information stored on the phones.

In a statement last week the company said it “respects both the regulatory requirements of government and the security and privacy needs of corporations and consumers”.