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BlackBerry maker and Saudis close to a deal?

Reuters and other news agencies are reporting that Research In Motion is close to finalizing a deal with regulators in Saudi Arabia to keep its mobile e-mail service up and running.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
2 min read

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion is supposedly working with officials in Saudi Arabia to make sure that BlackBerry users don't lose access to mobile e-mail, several news agencies reported Friday.

Government officials in Saudi Arabia announced earlier this week that they were ordering the country's three wireless operators to block BlackBerry messenger service. Officials said RIM's stringent security does not comply with policies of Saudi Arabia and presented a security risk.

BlackBerry Messenger service was expected to stop on Friday. So far, the Saudi telecommunications regulator, known as the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC), has not said whether it has begun enforcing the ban. There were conflicting reports all day about temporary interruptions in the service. But for the most part, BlackBerry users in Saudi Arabia were able to use the BlackBerry Messenger services.

Reuters reported that Saudi officials and RIM executives had made progress on coming up with a solution to the problem. The unnamed source said they were working on two options. One is to put some servers in Saudi Arabia, and another is a patch that would allow the government to access data in cases that affect national security.

RIM declined to comment.

RIM is also facing pressure to open up its encrypted network of e-mail to other governments, including the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, and India.

U.S. and Canadian officials have voiced their support for RIM.

It's difficult to know what RIM can do to satisfy the security needs of the Saudi government. For one, the government has not said specifically what it needs RIM to do to comply. Secondly, RIM has designed the security of its network so that the encryption control is in the hands of companies subscribing to its corporate mobile e-mail service.

"The BlackBerry enterprise solution was designed to preclude RIM, or any third party, from reading encrypted information under any circumstances, since RIM does not store or have access to the encrypted data," the company said in a statement. "RIM cannot accommodate any request for a copy of a customer's encryption key, since at no time does RIM, or any wireless network operator or any third party, ever possess a copy of the key. This means that customers of the BlackBerry enterprise solution can maintain confidence in the integrity of the security architecture without fear of compromise."