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Clinton supports RIM in security spat

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she understands the need to keep tabs on terrorists but that countries should not be banning BlackBerry services to do it.

"The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly in cyberspace," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a major policy statement in January.
"The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly in cyberspace," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a major policy statement in January.
U.S. Department of State

The U.S. and Canadian governments are getting involved with a dispute between some foreign governments and Research In Motion, the maker of the BlackBerry smartphone, over those countries' restrictions of the device.

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she would try to help broker a resolution between the two sides.

"We are taking time to consult and analyze the full range of interests and issues at stake because we know that there is a legitimate security concern, but there's also a legitimate right of free use and access," The Wall Street Journal reported Clinton as saying during a news conference in Washington on Thursday. "So I think we will be pursuing both technical and expert discussions as we go."

RIM, the maker of BlackBerry devices, is a Canadian company. And Canada's Ministry for International Trade also said it was in talks with the United Arab Emirates and other countries to resolve the issue.

Earlier this week, the U.A.E. said that starting in October, it would restrict some services, such as e-mail, on the BlackBerry. Saudi Arabia followed, saying it would ban BlackBerry services this week. The Saudi telecommunications authority ordered the country's three mobile-phone providers to block the services or face a $1.3 million fine.

Research In Motion

Saudi Arabia's ban went into effect Friday. BlackBerry users in that country said they were unable to send or receive messages starting midday. Other countries, including India, Indonesia, and Lebanon, are also talking about banning the service.

These countries claim that tight security used by RIM doesn't provide these governments with access to information passing through servers outside their jurisdiction. RIM is being targeted because it uses stronger data encryption for business customers than its smartphone rivals. RIM also routes all of its e-mail traffic through its own network of servers around the world, including many in Canada.

This setup makes it more difficult for national-security officials to tap into servers and read e-mails and other data. The U.A.E. has demanded that RIM establish proxy servers locally. But so far, RIM has refused to do so, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Earlier this week, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis said governments that target the BlackBerry simply don't understand the Internet.

"Everything on the Internet is encrypted," he was quoted by the Journal as saying. "This is not a BlackBerry-only issue. If they can't deal with the Internet, they should shut it off."

The U.S. Department of State is getting involved in the dispute because it has made promoting free speech a big part of its foreign-policy agenda. That said, the U.S. also understands the need to thwart terrorists who use the Internet and secure networks to plot attacks.

U.A.E. officials say they are not trying to restrict communication of average citizens but that they are simply trying to monitor illegal terrorist activity.

RIM officials say they are still working with these governments to work out a deal. The company said it isn't willing to compromise its security but that it will cooperate with lawful requests from authorities. RIM works with local and federal law enforcement in the U.S., when required by law.