UAE says BlackBerry dispute resolved before deadline

DUBAI (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates has dropped a threat to suspend BlackBerry services after resolving a dispute with the Canadian maker of the devices, Research in Motion (RIM), the state news agency said on Friday.

A family walks past a display of a BlackBerry smart phone at a shopping mall in Dubai August 1, 2010. REUTERS/Mosab Omar

RIM has been in dispute this year with a number of countries in the Gulf and elsewhere over its encrypted email and messaging services, which governments want monitored.

However, the Gulf Arab state gave no details on Friday of what RIM had agreed to beyond stating that BlackBerry services were now compliant with UAE telecoms regulations.

The UAE had said it would suspend BlackBerry Messenger, e-mail and web browser services on October 11 unless RIM worked out a way to locate its encrypted computer servers in the country so that the government can get access to e-mail and other data -- the same access it says the United States, Russia and other states have.

“The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) has confirmed that BlackBerry services are now compliant with the UAE’s telecommunications regulatory framework,” state news agency WAM said in a statement issued early on Friday during the region’s weekend.

“Therefore all Blackberry services in the UAE will continue to operate as normal and no suspension of service will occur on October 11, 2010,” it said, without giving details of the deal.

Saudi Arabia and India had also threatened to cut off services before they reached agreements with RIM and a UAE official had said in September the country was optimistic about getting a deal before the October 11 deadline.

Before the dispute, information sent to and from BlackBerrys had been encrypted and handled by servers outside the UAE.

RIM has said the location of its servers makes no difference to the ability to decrypt the data flow on its devices. A key issue is how to maintain the security of Blackberry Enterprise Servers (BES), the servers that control corporate email.

“It’s not clear what the fix was and it’s a big issue,” said Theodore Karasik, a Dubai-based security analyst. “If the regulator says the fix answers the security concerns of the UAE that could mean a server has been placed here, or a storage facility that the government can access and monitor.”

In Saudi Arabia source close to talks said in August RIM had agreed to share the unique pin number and code for each BlackBerry registered there, allowing authorities to read encrypted text sent via BlackBerry Messenger.

“Either they will continue services as usual or RIM has given them access to one or two elements of security such as the encryption key, or limited access in extreme circumstances,” said Shardul Shrimani, telecoms analyst at IHS Global Insight.

Many in the UAE expected the dispute to be resolved before October 11 -- few users had switched to other smartphones -- but the imminent deadline caused some jitters nonetheless.

“It would have been difficult for the UAE government to impose such a restriction because it would have been difficult to justify and would have had a big impact on international businesses in the country,” Shrimany said.


The UAE had voiced concerns over its inability to access the information through legal means, citing security and sovereignty issues, and had emphasized it was not able to reach a deal since new telecoms regulations took effect three years ago.

“The TRA also acknowledged ‘the positive engagement and collaboration of Research In Motion (RIM) in reaching this regulatory compliant outcome’,” WAM said.

Etisalat and du, the two mobile operators in the UAE, issued statements confirming all BlackBerry services would continue to operate as normal.

Etisalat, which says it is the service provider to over 80 percent of BlackBerry users in the UAE, said its alternative mobility packages announced in August for existing BlackBerry customers were no longer applicable.

The disputes between Gulf Arab states and the maker of the BlackBerry smartphone have highlighted a growing nervousness over regional security threats, ranging from al Qaeda militancy to a potential conflict over Iran’s nuclear energy programme.

But analysts say RIM concessions could help authorities keep an eye on communications of domestic political and human rights activists in a region where ruling dynasties have little tolerance for political opposition and activism.

Additional reporting by Tamara Walid and Raissa Kasolowsky; Writing by Andrew Hammond; Editing by David Holmes, Greg Mahlich