Saudi watchdog says BlackBerry users face ban

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s telecom watchdog said on Tuesday that telecom companies in the kingdom must block an unspecified service for all BlackBerry users as of Friday.

The Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) has asked “Saudi Telecom Co, Mobily and Zain Saudi Arabia to immediately stop the BlackBerry service for businesses and individuals in the kingdom starting Aug, 6,” it said in a statement.

The ban would last until the kingdom’s three mobile phone operators “fulfill the regulatory requirements it has requested,” said CITC without elaborating on the nature of these requirements.

“CITC has informed the three mobile telecommunications providers more than a year ago of the need to quickly fulfill with the manufacturer of BlackBerry handsets the required regulatory requirements,” it added.

The watchdog said it notified the three operators of the ban on Sunday. Industry sources told Reuters on Sunday that CITC notified them of its intention to ban the BlackBerry Messenger function this month, due mainly to security concerns.

State-controlled Saudi Telecom, which is the kingdom’s biggest telecom operator by market share, said later on Sunday that CITC has not notified it of a ban on “BlackBerry services,” according to a statement broadcast by Dubai-based al-Arabiya television channel.

Saudi Arabia has about 700,000 BlackBerry users of which some 80 percent are individual users. The device is a big success, especially among youths who use its Messenger function to interact with members of the opposite sex and exchange jokes and pictures in a deeply conservative society.

The United Arab Emirates threatened on Sunday to ban some BlackBerry services unless its maker, Research in Motion, gives it access to encrypted messages. India’s Economic Times reported that RIM will allow Indian security authorities to monitor BlackBerry services.

Reporting by Souhail Karam. Editing by Robert MacMillan