UAE to block Blackberry messaging: "If you can't scan 'em, ban 'em"

Blackberry mobile device service will be blocked in the United Arab Emirates beginning this October, after device maker Research in Motion effectively refused to comply with government demands that make the phones easier to surveil. Saudi Arabia will soon do the same.

Other countries, including India and the Gulf state of Bahrain, have also raised concerns about BlackBerry messaging features, but have not decided to block them outright.
I wonder what this means about other smartphone services that remain available in these same states?


  1. From a quick scan of the Beeb article earlier, it seems they are mainly concerned because Blackberries send encrypted data to overseas servers, blocking any chance of reading that data by internal security/survelance. IIRC, most (all?) other smartphones work through more conventional channels for most services, so are only as secure as using that service through other devices.

    1. Rimming is actually banned in several of the countries mentioned, so I don’t think they’ll be advertising it!

  2. Doesn’t say much for Dubai being one of the world’s financial centres if you can’t use a Blackberry there (and this is coming from an iPhone user). I can’t imagine too many power brokers wanting to be without them

  3. RIM has their own messaging layer. It’s pretty handy once you’ve traded PINs with your correspondents. IIRC it’s global and ‘free’ within the global subscription programs.

    I don’t think any other vendors offer this.

  4. If travelling there, could you sacrific your full feature set and just stick a different SIM card in it?

  5. I remember a story in WIRED years ago that talked about a global satellite system and phones that could use them. It was touted as the next big thing . Then failed miserably. I remember talking to a friend and speculating that if they did an IPO I would want to jump in on it. I didn’t but thats fine it tanked anyway. But looking back why can’t we do it again. When people are talking about putting satellites up made out of legos and cell phones @ It should be easy to blanket the earth with extraordinarily cheap and unblockable access over the whole earth. No signal? Walk a few feet. No way most goverments would even be able to afford to do large scale blocking with their own sats.

    1. @MikeyV: The Iridium satellite system is still operational. It didn’t become the next big thing, like you say, but it didn’t fall apart either.

      BoingBoing fave SpaceX is contracted to launch the next generation of their satellites starting in 2015, and apparently those are optimized for data transmission.

  6. I don’t know why, but being surveilled has never really worried me. What will any government get besides incredibly banal details that aren’t even against the law? I’ll be worried I’m being watched when my everyday life becomes illegal; then it’ll be time to worry. For now, all I see are bumbling governmental types trying to put on the Big Brother show, and judging by the competence of your average bureaucracy, they’re just wasting a lot of time and money.

    Of course, this is somewhat different under creepier regimes, and it’s certainly not something I’m in favor of. But as long as you’re not breaking the law, let them listen. The vast majority of us are nothing more than noise in the midst of whatever they are interested in.

    To combat it, I like Stringer Bell’s solution. Carry around a pile of SIM cards, and never say anything important on the phone anyway.

  7. That’s the whole point dw_funk. Should your gov’t be able to listen at all? How about passive designs? Listening to you having sex, happy with that? Nothing to hide, obviously, but still, is that OK?

    As for the old telephony system, isn’t it a little bit rich that people who have no real lives of their own want to watch/listen and record yours? We have a word for these persons (usually male) in the UK. they’re called PERVERTS. And they will continue to be called as such until they stop. Oh, no, we voted them in? No, not we. You.

    1. I oppose it philosophically. I don’t like people playin’ on my phone. And I try to vote for people who don’t let that happen, although that’s hard with both sides playing this issue false. And I imagine, if I had any extra money, I would want to give that to the kind of people that lobby against this.

      My (kind of stupid) point is that I think it’s an awfully stupid thing to be doing in the first place. Why do governments even bother scanning things like this, when they’re likely to be flooded with useless information? I have no doubt that, in the case of an actual crime or threat, there are better ways of gathering information besides skimming text messages. It’s just idiotic; a waste of time, manpower, and good will.

      I’m not sure if perversion has anything to do with it, but I guess if somebody’s going to get off on my incredibly dull phone conversations, at least I’ll have made some kind of impact on somebody that day. I only wish I’d get paid for it; even phone sex operators have to make some kind of money.

  8. Won’t international companies worry that the people intercepting their messages will sell the information to rival companies?

    Will companies who use Blackberries as a safeguard against industrial espionage leave the UAE?

  9. All telcos have a legal obligation to peform legal intercept on their subscribers. It is part of their licence to operate. There isn’t an issue with voice communications (even on Blackberries) however the problem comes with data. The telcos are increasingly becoming transparent bit-pipes with less and less traffic routing through their content or email providers. SSL to hotmail, GMail or secured web traffic is not easily sniffable. Where Blackberry runs afoul is that their encryption is stronger, and connects to a server in a foreign country. Banning it doesn’t remove the problem. Forcing RIM to install a server within the UAE boarders which the authorities can monitor is the solution that Etisalat is after. I guess the sticking point is that the want it for free.

  10. The US has had a similar law in place since 1994. Remember Al Gore and his fixation on tapping all communications? 1994 was when they passed the Communications Access for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) which mandates easy law enforcement access to basically all telecommunications. I assume SMS counts as telecommunications WRT CALEA so it would be illegal to operate any SMS service without built-in law enforcement access. I don’t know how complex services like Blackberry fit under CALEA (SMS is probably tappable but email is different?) but at least some parts of it (voice, SMS?) are covered.

    Dubai and so on are merely catching up to where we were 16 years ago.

    Thank you Al Gore!

  11. This whole thing has been transpiring for many months now. The UAE government has an unshakable urge to know what’s going on. I have been inside the command center of the Dubai police. It has a staggering amount of technology and they also have a staggering amount of help from western expats. You do not realize the number of cameras deployed in a city of this size. The cameras are powerful enough to zoom in and read a logo off a shirt pocket with ease.

    RIM’s technology is excellent. It’s encryption plays a small part in making it so. The encryption does, however, pose a problem to ISPs and governments who want to plug into the network and drain off all communications that take place. To get around this problem, the UAE telco Etisalat tried a different approach that ended in a giant bucket of fail. See here:

    Now, after they have been outed, and all their options have run out, they come out with an ultimatum. Much like a petulant 6 year old told to go to her room. It is hard to decide how this will play out. RIM is, after all, a commercial entity with as much need to see a profit as the next company. It would be sad to see them compromise their operating model just to give in to the frivolous demands of a control-freak government.

  12. They won’t be happy with my openmoko then. It supports ssh (client and server) and thats harder to break than whatever runs on the blackberry.

  13. Maybe I’m wrong, but aren’t some of the major shareholders of Apple based in the Emirates (I think that used to be true a long time ago: not sure now).

  14. These leaders who are so used to yanking their people around without thinking, without lifting a finger or making any sense at all. It must be really disturbing for them to try to wrap their heads around the idea that someone might not be willing to eat their stinking shit.

    Of all the existential mysteries, how these people continue to stay in power is the greatest.

Comments are closed.