The Emirati authorities appear to have reached an agreement with Research In Motion (RIM), the Canadian manufacturer of the BlackBerry smartphone, under which they are not after all carrying out a threat to suspend certain BlackBerry services from today.
Reporters Without Borders welcomes the decision not to put the threat into effect but it is concerned about the confidential nature of the presumed accord. If a compromise has been reached, RIM and the Emirati government should release its terms. Transparency is needed so that smartphone users can trust BlackBerry technology and so that freedom of information can be guaranteed in the UAE.
The Emirati government had announced on 1 August that BlackBerry’s instant messaging, email and web browsing services would be suspended on 11 October for failing to meet governmental and social standards (read the article).
But today, the government said BlackBerry’s smartphones were now complying with UAE legislation but it did not specify what modifications RIM had agreed to make to its services to bring them into compliance. An estimated 500,000 people currently use BlackBerry smartphones in the UAE.
The authorities had previously insisted that the fact that the encrypted data carried on these services transited through servers based abroad posed a threat to national security and they had accused RIM of thereby failing to comply with the country’s laws
According to the Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information that were adopted by a group of experts in international law in 1995 and were approved by the relevant UN special rapporteur, freedom of expression may only be restricted in very specific conditions affecting national security. Such conditions are not currently met in the UAE.
Arrests had already been carried out in connection with use of BlackBerry phones. Badr Ali Saiwad Al-Dhohori, an 18-year-old youth resident in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, was arrested on 15 July for allegedly using his BlackBerry to try to organise a protest against a gasoline price increase. The protest was called off before it took place (read the article).
Until now, it was BlackBerry phones and RIM that were being targeted but other smartphone manufacturers need to be on their guard against the EAU’s repressive demands. Apple has already been forced to sell its iPhone 4 models to the Emirates without the FaceTime app that enables video conversations.
The UAE was listed as a country “under surveillance” in the “Enemies of the Internet” report that Reporters Without Borders released in March (http://en.rsf.org/surveillance-united-arab-emirates,36668.html). Access to many websites is now blocked, especially those covering human rights, prisons, free speech and governance. (List of the blocked sites: http://www.emarati.katib.org/node/52).