January 31, 2011 / 9:51 AM / 9 years ago

Pakistan to cut BB services for foreign missions-sources

KARACHI, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Pakistani authorities have asked mobile telephone operators to stop BlackBerry services to foreign missions in the country amid concern about the security of the communications, industry sources said on Monday.

Two industry officials confirmed that the regulator, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), had asked them to stop all Blackberry services to foreign missions.

“I can confirm that PTA has asked us to stop all BlackBerry services to foreign embassies and high commissions,” a senior official at a mobile company, who declined to be identified, told Reuters.

Another industry official at another mobile company also confirmed receiving the instructions.

“There are some other issues as well, mostly relating to BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server), which we are trying to resolve in consultation with the PTA,” he said.

A PTA spokesman was not available for comment.

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion has been buffeted by demands for access to its encrypted data from several countries, including India and United Arab Emirates, worried by security and social mores.

Pakistani industry and government officials say that the government had never allowed BlackBerry services to foreign missions and inbound roamers when the services were launched in Pakistan in 2005.

The government also initially banned the more secure BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) services in Pakistan.

BES allows users to send and receive secure email and messages, which is difficult for governments to intercept and read.

However, the instructions have since been flouted by all five Pakistani mobile operators. It was not clear why the government allowed them to do so or why it was acting now to enforce the restrictions.

An industry source said that the government had asked all operators in the country to enforce the restrictions.

“The most critical issue is the provision of BlackBerry services to the foreign embassies, missions and high commissions,” said the source.

“Therefore, all the operators have agreed to close all BlackBerry connections provided to them by January 31,” he said, adding discussions would be held with the PTA to gain more time on the provision of BES to local customers as well as BlackBerry services to incoming roamers.

If fully enforced, the restrictions would mean no BlackBerry services for many of the multinational companies and aid groups, who use the BES service rather than the Blackberry Internet Service, or BIS, which is much less secure.

Last year, India demanded access to all BlackBerry services as part of efforts to fight militancy and security threats over the Internet and through telephone communications.

Last week, RIM said there was no possibility of providing India access to corporate emails on BlackBerry devices. (Editing by Chris Allbritton and Robert Birsel) (For more Reuters coverage of Pakistan, see: here) (If you have a query or comment about this story, send an e-mail to news.feedback.asia@thomsonreuters.com)

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