Banning the BlackBerry

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The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have announced that they will ban certain functions of the popular BlackBerry smart phone. The World's Clark Boyd has more.

DAVID BARON: Business people in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are big fans of the BlackBerry. But the governments in those countries don't like the popular smart phone. They say the BlackBerry is a ?threat to national security,? and both countries have announced plans to start blocking some of its key features. The World's Technology Correspondent Clark Boyd has more.

CLARK BOYD: Afficionados often refer to it as the CrackBerry. The BlackBerry does email, instant messaging, and web browsing. Oh yeah, it's a phone too. People doing business in the Gulf like it for all those reasons and more.

FEVZI TURKALP: BlackBerries are probably the most secure smart phones of their kind.

BOYD: Fevzi Turkalp is the editor of the website

TURKALP: They're secure because of the way in which they work. They not only use encryption, but they send the information abroad, typically to servers in Canada where the manufacturers are based, and then the messages are sent back into the inbox of BlackBerry users in UAE and Saudi Arabia are encrypted.

BOYD: That security is what has authorities in the United Arab Emirates worried, says Dubai-based tech analyst Simon Simonian.

SIMON SIMONIAN: They want to be able to monitor data messages just for security reasons. And because, this is the irony, that the BlackBerry is the preferred tool of the business community and because it's one of the most robust and secure. But the governments want to have access to the information, and they cannot.

BOYD: Saudi Arabia has said it will shut down the messenger service on BlackBerries by the end of this month. The UAE is going further. The government there says as of October 11th, it will ban email and web browsing on the devices as well. And that applies to foreign visitors who bring in their BlackBerries. Adrian Mars writes on technology for ZDNet in Britain.

ADRIAN MARS: If the United Arab Emirates want to ban the blackberry, block their communications, how the heck can you do that if you also want to promote Dubai as a business hub? Businessmen and women are welded to their blackberries. The two are just entirely incompatible.

BOYD: But are there legitimate security concerns? Jim Krane is the author of a book on Dubai. He says that from the UAE leaderships' point of view, there are certain groups that might take advantage of the BlackBerry's security features.

JIM KRANE: There's the jihadist threat that these ruling families that have been in power for so long view as an enemy. You've got spy agency assassins like the hit squad that probably took out the Hamas leader back in January in Dubai.

LARRY MAGID: It's hard to know whether this is national security or whether this is spying on your own citizens to suppress political dissent.

BOYD: Larry Magid is a technology analyst for CBS news.

MAGID: Clearly there has to be some way that legitimate authorities can get access to information if they have a legitimate reason to do it, but, again, a company based in Canada, or the US or the UK may have a very different set of standards as to what type of information to turn over and to whom and I think that that could be a real kind of cultural war. I can see some issues being very delicate and probably being negotiated on a government level.

BOYD: In a statement today, Research in Motion, the BlackBerry's manufacturer, said it wouldn't compromise the security of its smart phone. But it's not just Middle Eastern countries that have made noise about the BlackBerry. Indian officials have also called for a ban on the device. The Mumbai bombers used BlackBerries to coordinate their attacks in 2008. Negotiations between Research in Motion and the Indian government are ongoing. For The World, this is Clark Boyd.