Two Mideast countries to ban BlackBerry functions

United Arab Emirates cites national security concerns in decision to prohibit key features on the device, a ban Saudi Arabia will reportedly also institute.

Two Mideast countries plan to block key features of Research In Motion's BlackBerry, citing national security concerns.

Regulators in the United Arab Emirates announced plans on Sunday to block e-mail, instant messaging, and Web browsing on the devices beginning October 11 in a dispute over how they store and transmit data. Meanwhile, neighboring Saudi Arabia has directed two mobile operators in that country to disable the BlackBerry's instant message function, according to a Reuters report.

The UAE's decision was the result of "failure of ongoing attempts, dating back to 2007, to bring BlackBerry services in the UAE in line with UAE telecommunications regulations," the country's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority said in a statement Sunday. Some BlackBerry services "operate beyond the enforcement" of current telecommunications regulations in the country, the government said.

"BlackBerry data is immediately exported offshore, where it's managed by a foreign, commercial organization. Blackberry data services are currently the only data services operating in the UAE where this is the case," the government said. "Today's decision is based on the fact that, in their current form, certain BlackBerry services allow users to act without any legal accountability, causing judicial, social and national-security concerns."

A RIM spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The ban, which is expected to affect about 500,000 users in the UAE, is the latest chapter in a long-running dispute between the Canadian handset maker and the country's government. Last year, the UAE state-owned mobile operator Etisalat encouraged BlackBerry users in that country to install a "performance enhancement patch." However, the company criticized the patch as spyware, saying it could "enable unauthorized access to private or confidential information stored on the user's smart phone."

Etisalat denied the claim, but RIM published instructions on how to remove the patch.

Update, Monday at 9:12 a.m. PDT: The Associated Press reports that the UAE's ban on BlackBerry services will apply to foreign visitors to the country as well as local residents.

 

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