Reporters Without Borders condemns the suspension of BlackBerry instant messaging services announced by Saudi Arabia, where it was due to begin today, and by the United Arab Emirates, where it is due to begin in October. Indonesia, India, Egypt and Kuwait have also voiced concern about BlackBerry’s encrypted services and have asked its Canadian manufacturer, Research in Motion (RIM), to give them access to users’ confidential data.
The Indonesian authorities yesterday denied that they were considering the possibility of blocking any BlackBerry services but said they wanted RIM to set up a data routing centre inside the country. Having the data in Indonesia would mean any issues could be referred to the country’s courts.
“The ‘national security’ argument is just a pretext,” Reporters Without Borders said. “What really bothers the countries that use this pretext is their inability to monitor BlackBerry’s services. Many of these countries have already adopted a wide range of Internet censorship measures. BlackBerry is their latest target because it is being used for discussion and debate and, as such, needs to be censored as well. Those most affected will be BlackBerry users in these countries, who will find they have even less scope for free expression.”
The Indian daily The Economic Times reported on 2 August that RIM was ready to decrypt certain kinds of data and pass them on to the Indian intelligence services. RIM has meanwhile issued several statements denying that it passes on information to countries such as the United States (as the Emirati authorities have claimed) and promising to respect both government regulations and the security and data protection needs of companies and consumers.
BlackBerry encrypts its services better than most smartphone manufacturers do, and RIM has refused to provide the access codes that would allow governments to monitor the content of encrypted messages. Monitoring is impossible because a system of keys available only to users guarantees data confidentiality.
Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard wrote to RIM founder and co-CEO Mike Lazaridis on 4 August urging him not to yield to pressure and to guarantee data confidentiality. The press freedom organisation also wrote to the Saudi and Emirati authorities asked them to refrain from suspending its services and thereby avoid dealing a serious blow to free expression.
The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia claim that BlackBerry’s services break their laws and threaten national security. The UAE’s Telecommunication Regulatory Authority has announced that it will suspend BlackBerry’s instant messaging, email, web browsing and roaming services from 11 October.
The UAE is ranked as a “country under surveillance” and Saudi Arabia is ranked as an “Enemy of the Internet” in the latest Reporters Without Borders report on online free expression, which was released on 12 March.