The UAE governments decision to ban some functions of RIMs BlackBerry from October 11, citing security risks, reflects concern among some governments that the BlackBerry service does not allow them to monitor data traffic sent and received by BlackBerry users, and that this data is handled and stored offshore out of government control.
The BlackBerry platform architecture relies on dedicated data centres (NOCs) which handle all BlackBerry data traffic over a secure, encrypted connection between the NOC and the handset. Some governments are uncomfortable with the solution because they have little or no visibility into BlackBerry data traffic, and are concerned that BlackBerry handsets may be used for criminal purposes.
The difficulty for RIM is that security has been a key selling point for BlackBerry and acquiescing to government demands would significantly undermine its security credentials, particularly with business and public sector customers. There are legitimate reasons for wanting data encryption and privacy and there is a concern that if RIM compromises with one government then others will demand the same access.
This is part of a wider debate around government monitoring and filtering of telecommunications and the Internet, with deep implications for privacy (both personal and corporate), freedom of speech and national security. The loss of access to the UAE market will upset BlackBerry customers and international business travelers in the region, but RIM looks likely maintain its current stance and avoid damage to its reputation in the much larger North American and Western European markets.
The writer is an Ovum analyst.
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