Reports: RIM May Make Concessions on BlackBerry Use

Tuesday, 03 Aug 2010 01:34 PM

 

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BlackBerry maker Research in Motion may be considering concessions to governments who have voiced concerns about the tight security that makes its devices so popular, newspapers said on Tuesday.

India's Economic Times newspaper reported that RIM had agreed to allow security authorities in the country to monitor BlackBerry services after pressure from governments worried about national security.

Separately Kuwaiti daily al-Jarida, quoting a source it did not identify by name, said RIM had given "initial approval" to block 3,000 porn sites at the request of Kuwait's communications ministry. It said security was also a concern.

The two reports follow the announcement on Sunday that the United Arab Emirates would suspend BlackBerry Messenger, email and Web browser services from Oct. 11 unless it could access encrypted messages.

RIM has declined to comment on the newspaper reports or on the reports of a UAE ban, but said on Monday in a statement it would respect both customers and governments.

"RIM does not disclose confidential regulatory discussions that take place with any government," it said, without elaborating.

The Ontario-based company says is keen to clear the air before Tuesday's expected launch of a new BlackBerry dubbed its "iPhone killer."

Unlike rivals Nokia and iPhone maker Apple, RIM controls its own networks which handle encrypted messages through centers in Canada and the United Kingdom.

That has made the BlackBerry popular as a secure way to communicate, but has worried governments.

RIM's Nasdaq-listed shares remain flat Tuesday. Its shares fell as much as 2.7 percent before closing down 0.96 percent at $56.98 on Monday. Its Toronto-listed shares resume trading on Tuesday following a public holiday.

The Economic Times, citing internal government documents, said RIM has offered to share with Indian security agencies its technical codes for corporate email services, open up access to all consumer emails within 15 days and also develop tools in six to eight months to allow monitoring of chats.

An Indian government source could not confirm or deny the details in the newspaper but told Reuters the company and security agencies were discussing several options and a deal would be reached soon.

"We hope to find a solution by this month end," the official said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to media.

Kuwait's al-Jarida said Kuwait's government was working with RIM and telecom companies on "legal controls that would guarantee national security on the one hand, and the rights of citizens... to use the device's services on the other." Saudi Arabia has also asked service providers to cut off Messenger, industry sources told Reuters.

Bahrain in April warned against using Messenger to distribute news.

The United States weighed in on the matter on Monday and said the UAE was setting a dangerous precedent in limiting freedom of information.

But the UAE says it wants nothing more than what other nations have negotiated and notes it only announced plans for a ban after three years of attempts to work out a compromise.

Under U.S. law, for example, authorities can use a subpoena to gain access to telecommunications data and Britain has similar rules. RIM has refused to discuss the details of its pacts with individual governments.

"It is troublesome to think that RIM is already complying with U.S. and UK regulatory requirements which are virtually the same as those in the UAE," said a UAE source familiar with the matter. "So it begs the question why treat the UAE differently?"

Theodore Karasik, a security analyst at Dubai-based firm INEGMA, said there were real security concerns at stake.

"Some in the Dubai/UAE bashing crowd will say this is a freedom of speech issue... but some would say the UAE brought this up at the height of threat awareness here. There are several security issues here — Iran, Yemen, al Qaeda — that they could be worried about," he told Reuters.

"Everyone wants to get their security access. The UAE is acting as a bellwether for other countries on this," he said.

In addition to security threats, the UAE has tracked several money laundering incidents, including a plot to defraud the central bank of 7.2 billion euros ($10.17 billion).

The UAE, Saudi Arabia and India represent more than 2 million BlackBerry users, or about 5 percent of the 41 million devices in service worldwide.

BlackBerry users in the UAE on Tuesday were offered iPhones and other handsets by service providers keen to hold on to some 500,000 customers in the Gulf Arab nation. Top provider Emirates Telecommunications Corp (Etisalat) offered free devices to customers affected by the ban.

© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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