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BlackBerry Jam


25-09-2010
English | العربية

Angus Taverner

Director- Global Affairs


Tag: USA UAE Security Public Policy
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In a few short years the BlackBerry smartphone has become an indispensible tool of business.  US President Barack Obama famously based his election campaign strategy partly on clever use of the device and its ability to deliver email, texts and messages wherever and whenever required.  It has also promoted the development of a commercial culture that is rarely out of contact for long, and for many the BlackBerry has come to symbolise modern business practice and entrepreneurial spirit. 
It was against this backdrop that the UAE caused considerable surprise when it announced on 01 August that it was planning as of October 11 to block a number of crucial BlackBerry services for both locals and visitors unless BlackBerrys Canadian owner and operator, Research in Motion (RIM), agreed to allow better access to the systems security architecture.  In the days that followed the announcement, it quickly became clear that other governments were likely to follow suit, most notably India and Saudi Arabia.  Motivating the UAE and others moves were concerns for national security and, also, a suspicion of a two-tier relationship between RIM and governments around the world that allowed some Western countries such as the US and UK greater access to RIMs security protocols.
The UAEs stand on this issue has therefore provoked a wider international debate concerning where the balance should lie between privacy and national security and between government and private enterprise management of communication.  On the one hand, part of BlackBerrys USP unique selling proposition has been the security it affords companies and governments in their dealings.  Sadly and perhaps inevitably, the same levels of protection from the public gaze have attracted terrorists and criminals, rendering it difficult or indeed impossible for governments to monitor their criminal planning and coordination.  Many observers have noted that the UAE relies more on soft security than it does on the hard security provided by police and military forces meaning that it has developed a quiet but highly effective surveillance capability.  This the Dubai Police clearly demonstrated when they produced the evidence to condemn Mossad for the assassination of Hamas official Mahmoud al Mabhouh in Dubai last January.
Recognising this security concern, many have rallied to the UAEs defence, sometimes with surprising vigour.  For example, President Bushs former deputy homeland security advisor, Richard Falkenrath, insisted that it was the UAEs right to monitor all communications both legitimate and potentially illicit.  Writing in the New York Times he concluded, The Emirates have acted understandably and appropriately: governments should not be timid about using their full powers to ensure that their law enforcement and intelligence agencies are able to keep their citizens safe.  Clearly, this is not a view that is shared universally and some more liberal commentators clearly fear that governments are using the threat of terrorism as a justification for imposing overly invasive surveillance measures in many countries. 
The UAEs stand on this issue attracted widespread international support.  Accordingly, many suspect that RIM will reach an accommodation with the UAE that will enable BlackBerrys continued use this notwithstanding an international market view that RIMhaving reduced its uspmay then also face the commercial prospect of being overtaken by other smartphones such as Apples iPhone and Googles Android offering. 


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