* BlackBerry Messenger still working early Friday morning
* Research In Motion and Saudis make progress, source says
* Saudi residents have mixed feelings about threatened ban
By Souhail Karam
RIYADH, Aug 6 Thousands of BlackBerry users in
Saudi Arabia were waiting early Friday to see if the government
would carry out its threat to cut off the device's Messenger
service on national security grounds.
Talks between the smartphone's maker, Research In Motion
RIM.TORIMM.O, and the Saudi telecom regulator were making
progress, a source with direct knowledge of the negotiations
said late Thursday.
Even so, the government would proceed with blocking the
BlackBerry Messenger function as decreed by the Communications
and Information Technology Commission earlier this week, the
"RIM showed on Thursday 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 setups,"
the source told Reuters.
RIM is facing mounting pressure to open its super-secure
network to government scrutiny. A growing number of countries
are demanding access to encrypted communications sent through
the device, saying national security may be at risk.
The Saudi talks have led Research In Motion to consider
locating a server in the kingdom to handle some of the
BlackBerry network's encrypted communications, Al-Hayat
newspaper's online edition said on Friday in an unsourced
Saudi Arabia is RIM's biggest Middle East market.
The decision to ban Messenger has left residents in a deeply
conservative society with mixed feelings.
A U.S. resident working at the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah
said: "I communicate with my family through BlackBerry
Messenger and now I will have to go back to using email. I can
put up with a lot of restrictions in this country.... But I
can't put up with not talking to my family back home."
Rayan, a Saudi in his 30s, said the regulator "should have
done their research before allowing BlackBerry in the market."
While many saw the ban as a good move, some Saudis said
they did not understand why Research In Motion is refusing to
give Saudi authorities the kind of access that they say some
Western countries enjoy.
RIM has stipulated that any 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 company said 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 key.
Officials at CITC did not respond to requests for comment.
(Reporting by Souhail Karam; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing
by Gary Hill)