* Maker, Saudi telcos testing local servers - source
* Saudi BlackBerry Messenger still working Friday
(Recasts with new details)
By Souhail Karam
RIYADH, Aug 6 The makers of the BlackBerry were
looking into the possibility of using servers in Saudi Arabia on
Friday to avert a threatened ban on its Messenger services by
Saudi government, which wants access to its encrypted network, a
source said on Friday.
Despite some reports of temporary interruptions, BlackBerry
users were able to access the Messenger service on Friday
evening, hours after the kingdom had threatened to cut it off
over concern it might be used to harm national security.
A source with direct knowledge of the negotiations said
talks between maker Research In Motion RIM.TO RIMM.O and the
Saudi telecom regulator had made progress.
"We are testing technical solutions with RIM ... Servers to
be more exact," the source told Reuters, speaking on condition
RIM officials in Canada have not returned calls seeking
comment on the talks.
The source said the two options to resolve the row were
servers in Saudi Arabia or a patch which would allow the
government access to data in cases affecting national security.
The regulator, the Communications and Information Technology
Commission (CITC), did not say whether it had begun enforcing
the ban. Saudi Arabia is RIM's biggest Middle East market with
about 700,000 users.
RIM is facing pressure to open its encrypted network to
scrutiny by governments in circumstances affecting national
India, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Lebanon and Algeria have all
voiced similar concerns which centre on access to communications
sent through the device. Together, those markets account for
about 5 percent of the Canadian firm's global customers.
The U.S. and Canadian governments have expressed concern
about implications from banning such services. [ID:nN05199262]
Al-Hayat newspaper's online edition said on Friday in an
unsourced report that RIM might resolve the Saudi situation by
locating a server in the kingdom to handle some of the
BlackBerry network's encrypted communications.
On Thursday, the source said RIM "showed a degree of
flexibility that has not been there over the past three months.
Progress is being made. We started debating the technicalities
of new set-ups".
It is unclear how long a ban would last if the two sides are
unable to reach a compromise over the company's encrypted
network and the government's concerns. A technical solution
might also mean a disruption to services.
"They should have done their research before allowing
BlackBerry in the market," said BlackBerry user Rayan, a Saudi
in his 30s.
Neighbouring UAE has 500,000 BlackBerry users and plans a
more sweeping ban from October 11 targeting not only Messenger
but also email and web browsing on the device.
Sources have told Reuters that the UAE government has also
suggested RIM install a server handling BlackBerry traffic in
The UAE could access the data it requires either through a
local server or an encryption master key used in BlackBerry
technology, said Shardul Shrimani, Middle East and North Africa
analyst at IHS Global Insight.
"BlackBerry is not likely to offer a master key and
essentially a server installed in the country would be similar
to offering them a master key," Shrimani said.
"The main concern for the government is not monitoring
business communications. What the government is worried about is
a very small minority who would be using BlackBerry for any sort
of illegal activity," he said.
RIM has stipulated that any Saudi agreement must apply to
the kingdom's three mobile phone operators: state-controlled
Saudi Telecom 7010.SE, Mobily 7020.SE and Zain Saudi Arabia
"RIM will not engage in one-to-one talks with the operators
about any solution it will adopt. They will have to take it, all
of them," the source said.
The Canadian company said on Wednesday it has never provided
anything unique to the government of one country and cannot
accommodate any request for a copy of a customer's encryption
(Additional reporting from Asma Alsharif in Jeddah)
(Reporting by Souhail Karam; Editing by Jason Neely and