U.S. says UAE BlackBerry ban sets dangerous precedent

WASHINGTON Tue Aug 3, 2010 5:06am EDT

A woman uses her Blackberry mobile device at a shopping mall in Dubai August 2, 2010. REUTERS/Mosab Omar

A woman uses her Blackberry mobile device at a shopping mall in Dubai August 2, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Mosab Omar

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said it was disappointed that the United Arab Emirates planned to cut off key BlackBerry services, noting that the Gulf nation was setting a dangerous precedent in limiting freedom of information.

"We are committed to promoting the free flow of information," said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. "We think it's integral to an innovative economy."

The UAE said over the weekend that it would suspend Research In Motion's BlackBerry Messenger, email and Web browser services from October 11 until the government could get access to encrypted messages.

Crowley said the United States was seeking additional information from the UAE about its security concerns, but urged the country to allow BlackBerry services to aid the free flow of information.

"It's about what we think is an important element of democracy, human rights and freedom of information and the flow of information in the 21st century," Crowley said, adding that the United States makes the same argument to Iran and China.

"We think it sets a dangerous precedent," he said. "You should be opening up societies to these new technologies that have the opportunity to empower people rather than looking to see how you can restrict certain technologies."

Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE Ambassador to the United States, said Crowley's comments were disappointing and contradict the U.S. government's own approach to telecommunication regulation.

"In fact, the UAE is exercising its sovereign right and is asking for exactly the same regulatory compliance -- and with the same principles of judicial and regulatory oversight -- that Blackberry grants the U.S. and other governments and nothing more," Otaiba said.

"Importantly, the UAE requires the same compliance as the U.S. for the very same reasons: to protect national security and to assist in law enforcement," he said. "It is regrettable that after several years of discussions, BlackBerry is still not compliant with UAE regulatory requirements even as it complies with similar policies in other countries."

(Reporting by Deborah Charles; Editing by Robert MacMillan and Richard Chang)