x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

BlackBerry is 'beyond the law' says government

Statement throws doubt on future of mobile email and messaging service used by 500,000 in the UAE.

BlackBerry is operating beyond the UAE law, the government's official news service reported today, throwing doubt on the future of the mobile email and messaging service. BlackBerry's suite of communication services such as e-mail and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) use internal networks that are encrypted under one of the world's most complex codes. BlackBerry has about 500,000 subscribers in the Emirates, not counting visitors who roam through the airports.

BlackBerry "operates beyond the jurisdiction of national legislation", according to a statement issued today by the state-run news service WAM. This is because it "is the only device operating in the UAE that immediately exports its data offshore and is managed by a foreign, commercial organisation". "As a result of how BlackBerry data is managed and stored, in their current form, certain BlackBerry applications allow people to misuse the service, causing serious social, judicial and national security repercussions," the statement added.

The statement comes after recent investigations into security issues posed by the use of BlackBerry technology by regulatory authorities in India, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Earlier this month, a government-backed survey of BlackBerry subscribers found that there were "concerns" about the safety of email data among UAE consumers. Three quarters of the survey respondents said they would be worried if their emails were being stored by an independent organisation located outside the UAE. According to the poll, which was quoted by the state-run news service WAM, 58 per cent of the respondents said they would be worried if the mobile applications they used were beyond the reach of the UAE courts.

The government statement said that "we have been working for a long time to resolve these critical issues, with the objective of finding a solution that safeguards our consumers and operates within the boundaries of UAE law." Earlier this month, the Indian telecommunications ministry gave Research In Motion (RIM), the Canadian maker of the BlackBerry, a deadline to provide access to messages on the BlackBerry network, according to various media reports.

India's intelligence officials have long complained they are unable to decipher encrypted data sent on BlackBerry handsets, which were used during the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008. In March, Saudi Arabia's communication and information technology commission was reported to have asked RIM to give it access to the BBM network and threatened to shut down the service if RIM did not comply. The commission later decided against a block.

In Kuwait, the Arab Times newspaper reported in May that the ministry of interior was planning to stop the BBM service because neither the ministry of communications nor security authorities had access to the encryption codes. But it is not clear whether the service has been blocked as the country's three telecoms operators have not received any request from the ministry to enforce a ban on the message service.

RIM was not immediately available for comment. business@thenational.ae