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UAE, Saudi Arabia to block Blackerry on security fears

9:50 PM that's me 0 Comments

Activists see it as an attempt to more tightly control the flow of information

DUBAI — The UAE said Sunday it will block key features on BlackBerry smart phones, citing national security concerns because the devices operate beyond the government's ability to monitor their use. Officials in neighboring Saudi Arabia indicated it planned to follow suit.

The decision could prevent hundreds of thousands of users in the Mideast country from accessing e-mail and the Web on the handsets starting in October, putting the federation's reputation as a business-friendly commercial and tourism hub at risk.

BlackBerry data is encrypted and routed overseas, and the measure could be motivated in part by government fears that the messaging system might be exploited by terrorists or other criminals who cannot be monitored by the local authorities.

However, analysts and activists also see it as an attempt to more tightly control the flow of information in the conservative country, a U.S. ally that is home to the Gulf business capital Dubai and the oil-rich emirate of Abu Dhabi.

This isn't the first time BlackBerry and Emirati officials have had run-ins over security and the popular handsets, a fixture in professionals' pockets and purses the world over.

Just over a year ago, BlackBerry maker Research in Motion criticized a directive by UAE state-owned mobile operator Etisalat telling the company's more than 145,000 BlackBerry users to install software described as an "upgrade ... required for service enhancements."

RIM said tests showed the update was in fact spy software that could allow outsiders to access private information stored on the phones. It strongly distanced itself from Etisalat's decision, and provided details instructing users how to remove the software.

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