RIM headache grows as govts seek BlackBerry access

BEIRUT (Reuters) - BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd RIM.TO on Thursday faced more demands to open its smartphones to government scrutiny as Lebanon joined India, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in raising concerns over security.

The new BlackBerry Torch 9800 smartphone is introduced at a news conference in New York August 3, 2010. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

RIM’s co-CEO Michael Lazaridis in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, accusing the governments of picking on smartphones to score political points.

“This is about the Internet,” Lazaridis told the Journal. “Everything on the Internet is encrypted. This is not a BlackBerry-only issue. If they can’t deal with the Internet, they should shut it off.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said officials will hold talks with the United Arab Emirates and others who are citing security concerns in seeking access to BlackBerry’s messaging service.

“We are taking time to consult and analyze the full array of interests and issues at stake because we know that there is a legitimate security concern, but there is also a legitimate right of free use and access,” she told reporters in Washington.

(For Slideshow: Evolution of the BlackBerry, click here)

Clinton has promoted Internet freedom as a basic human right. Earlier this year she called on China to respond to charges by Google IncGOOG of censorship and a sophisticated hacking attack from within the country.

RIM’s shares fell nearly 2 percent in trading on the Nasdaq and Toronto stock exchanges. The stock has lost about 8 percent of its value since the UAE threatened over the weekend to ban BlackBerry email, messaging and Internet services after three years of negotiations with RIM over access to user data.

The BlackBerry faces a ban in Saudi Arabia as early as Friday if RIM cannot reach a compromise there. RIM and Saudi officials met on Thursday.

Lebanon raised concerns over the smartphone on Thursday, saying it was studying security concerns related to the BlackBerry and would begin talks with RIM, which has its headquarters in Waterloo, Canada.

Media reports had said that Indonesia was pressing on RIM to allow monitoring of BlackBerry data, though the country’s communications minister said it was not banning the service.

India, worried that BlackBerry’s secure messaging services could be misused by militants, has demanded more access for its security agencies, and the country’s telecoms minister said it had not reached an agreement with the company.

The Indian government may block the BlackBerry messenger service, but allow emails and voicemails, the Times of India said on Thursday, citing unnamed sources.

Government standoffs could hurt confidence in RIM on Wall Street, which had been reassured that a Gulf states ban would affect a tiny portion of the BlackBerry’s more than 41 million subscribers.

Lazaridis said the company was in discussions with various governments, and said the issue will likely get resolved.

RIM has said BlackBerry security is based on a system where customers create their own keys. The company neither has a master key nor any “back door” to let RIM or third parties to gain access to data.

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.

(Additional reporting by Souhail Karam and Emma Ashburn, Writing by Ritsuko Ando in New York, Editing by Tiffany Wu, Dave Zimmerman)

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