x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

BlackBerry users breathe sigh of relief

A deal was announced on Friday between the makers of BlackBerry mobile phones and the UAE's telecoms regulator, averting a ban on services only three days before the restrictions were to begin.

A deal was announced yesterday between the makers of BlackBerry mobile phones and the UAE's Telecommunications and Regulatory Authority (TRA), averting a ban on services only three days before the restrictions were to begin. 

For more than two months the regulator wrangled with the smartphone's maker, Research in Motion (RIM), over security concerns relating to the device's encrypted messaging system.

"BlackBerry services are now compliant with the UAE's telecommunications regulatory framework," the TRA said in a statement yesterday without providing further details. 

Tony Cripps, the principal analyst at Ovum, a UK-based telecoms analysis company, said the news implies a "pragmatic resolution has been reached". 

"It is unclear what changed in the nature of the RIM service that could lead the regulator to be 'satisfied services on the devices are now compliant with its security needs' when it had previously said the encryption of the BlackBerry service and the storage of data outside of the UAE's border contravened local policy," he said.

Regardless, it will have come as a great relief to the 500,000 BlackBerry users across the UAE. 

"BlackBerry services are now compliant with the UAE's telecommunications regulatory framework," said a statement released by the TRA without further details. 

The regulator had said in August that BlackBerry services would be suspended because "certain BlackBerry services allow users to act without any legal accountability, causing judicial, social and national security concerns for the UAE."

This was widely considered to be an allusion to the device's encrypted messaging service. The move triggered a wave of similar threatened bans in other countries. 

While RIM has not commented on the overturning of the ban, it has previously said that it would not open its encryption technology to state security services. "After all, solid security has been one of the main foundations of RIM's success over the past 10 years," explained Mr Cripps.

"As such we can only hypothesise that some kind of workaround has been agreed in terms and conditions between the UAE regulator and local carriers - and no doubt with RIM's input - to gain access to e-mails sent over the BlackBerry service at a point in the delivery process that is outside of RIM's control," he added.

The UAE faced criticism from the US and others after announcing it would halt BlackBerry services, but it defended its position by pointing out that its requests were not novel.

"In fact, the UAE is exercising its sovereign right and is asking for exactly the same regulatory compliance - and with the same principles of judicial and regulatory oversight - that BlackBerry grants the US and other governments and nothing more," said the UAE's ambassador to the US, Youssef al Otaiba in response to criticism from the US department of state. 

In its statement announcing the rescinding of plans for a ban, the TRA thanked RIM for its "positive engagement and collaboration," which led to the devices being declared compliant with the UAE's regulatory framework.

smclain@thenational.ae