BOSTON The BlackBerry -- renown for the security of its messaging -- doesn't offer 100 percent protection from eavesdropping. At least not in the United States.
U.S. law enforcement officials said they can tap into emails and other conversations made using the device, made by Research in Motion, as long as they have proper court orders.
RIM's willingness to grant authorities access to the messages of its clients is a hot-button issue. The United Arab Emirates claims it does not have the same kind of surveillance rights to BlackBerry messages as officials in the United States. It has threatened to clamp down on some services unless they get more access.
The exact details of the dispute remain unclear, but security experts say that many governments around the world enjoy the ability to monitor BlackBerry conversations as they do communications involving most types of mobile devices.
"The ability to tap communications is a part of surveillance and intelligence and law enforcement all over the world," said Mark Rasch, former head of the computer crimes unit at the U.S. Department of Justice.
RIM is in an unusual position of having to deal with government requests to monitor its clients because it is the only smartphone maker who manages the traffic of messages sent using its equipment. Other smartphone makers -- including Apple Inc, Nokia, HTC and Motorola Corp -- leave the work of managing data to the wireless carrier or the customer.
RIM's encrypted, or scrambled, traffic is delivered through secure servers at its own data centers, based mostly in its home base of Canada. Some corporate clients choose to host BlackBerry servers at other locations.
Rasch said that RIM may feel uncomfortable granting such access to officials in UAE. There may be concern authorities could abuse that access, he said.
"You reach a point where a company feels uncomfortable from the client perspective with what a government is asking them," Rasch said. "It may be a function of what they are being asked to do, or it may be a function of which government is asking."
U.S. rules that govern wire-tapping are designed to avoid abuse of power.
"It's a very complex process going to go about getting a wire tap. It's not something that is made easy for us to do," said Connecticut State Police Sergeant Shawn Corey.
(Reporting by Jim Finkle in Boston. Additional reporting by Alastair Sharp in Cairo and Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington; Editing by Frank McGurty)