Saudi Arabia orders BlackBerry ban starting Friday

Saudi Arabia is ordering its mobile operators to halt BlackBerry services throughout the kingdom this week.

Dubai: Saudi Arabia is ordering its mobile operators to halt BlackBerry services throughout the kingdom this week, heightening tensions between device maker Research in Motion Ltd and governments demanding greater access to data sent on the phones.

The Saudi state news agency SPA said in a report late Tuesday that the country`s telecom regulator has informed mobile service providers in the country that they must halt BlackBerry services starting Friday.

The regulator, known as the Communications and Information Technology Commission, couldn`t immediately be reached for comment to provide details of the ban or say how it would be enforced.

It said the suspension of service was being implemented because BlackBerry service "in its present state does not meet regulatory requirements," according to the SPA report.

RIM could not immediately be reached for comment.

Word of the ban comes just days after the neighbouring United Arab Emirates announced it was planning to shut down e-mail, messaging and web browsing on BlackBerrys starting in October.

India is also in talks with RIM over how information is managed on the devices. Like the UAE, it has cited security concerns in pushing for greater access to encrypted information sent by the phones that gets routed through the Canadian company`s computers overseas.

Saudi Arabia did not spell out its concerns about the devices, though its government is also wary of security threats. As in the UAE, Saudi BlackBerry phones are popular both among businesspeople and youth who see the phones` relatively secure communication features as a way to avoid attention from the authorities.

Earlier on Tuesday, RIM denied that it had agreed to heightened surveillance of its corporate clients by the Indian government, as talks continue over access to e-mails and other data sent on the devices.

"We won`t compromise on the security architecture of our corporate e-mails," said RIM`s India spokesman, Satchit Gayakwad. "We respect the requirements of regulatory bodies in terms of security, but we also look at the customer`s need for privacy."

India`s internal security chief U K Bansal told reporters last week he hoped the issue of BlackBerry monitoring would be sorted out soon, after widespread reports that the government had threatened to ban the devices.

Analysts say RIM`s expansion into fast-growing emerging markets — and the UAE`s recent public showdown with the company — is threatening to set off a wave of regulatory challenges, as RIM`s commitment to information security rubs up against the desires of local law enforcement.

RIM has said its discussions with the more than 175 countries where it operates are private. Gayakwad did say, however, that the Indian government has other ways of cracking data if security concerns arise. It can rifle through an Indian company`s e-mail server, for instance, or monitor phone calls, text messages or web-based e-mails sent from Blackberry devices.

India and the UAE aren`t alone in wanting more control over BlackBerry messaging. Bahrain has threatened to crack down on spreading news using the devices. And industry experts say they believe RIM offered China some concessions before the BlackBerry was introduced there.

Bureau Report