RIM must stand its ground in foreign BlackBerry ban threats

Research In Motion (RIM) Corp., the Ontario-based maker of the BlackBerry smartphone, has reached an agreement with the Saudi government, preventing the banning of core BlackBerry features.

The Saudi government claimed core BlackBerry features present sufficient risk to national security that it would have been forced to disable the key features for all users in the country, including for all foreigners traveling to the Kingdom.

The features in question include both BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS) and BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES), including BlackBerry Messenger, email, and browsing.

The Saudi’s claimed (including many more nations like India, and the United Arab Emirates, among others) that the platform is far too secure where government officials are not able to monitor BlackBerry data.

 The RIM system works by encrypting messages sent from a BlackBerry device, then sending the encrypted data to RIM servers located in Canada, and then to the intended recipient.

RIM says it does not, nor does any other party, have access to the encrypted data, meaning it is secure and cannot be read by a third party.

A couple of days ago, the Saudi government disabled BlackBerry service in the country for about six hours.

RIM subsequently reached a deal, agreeing it would install three servers in the Kingdom that would allow government officials to monitor data.

RIM has not yet disclosed details of what monitoring data exactly means.

Right now, it appears the Saudi government would be able to directly decipher messages in order to directly monitor usage, for national security purposes.

With many other nations making the same claims, and also threatening to disable BlackBerry service in their respective regions, it could mean RIM would be forced to become more transparent.

The BlackBerry smartphone is a messaging centric device, and people buy it because they know they’re getting cutting edge secure mobile messaging.

If RIM gives in to foreign government demands to allow direct monitoring, it really begs the question why would anyone want to use a BlackBerry if messages can be monitored by a third party, in this case a government, and perhaps even worse, a foreign government.

RIM also offers BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES), where companies deploy the server within a corporate environment to provide mobile messaging to employees along with best-in-class IT administration tools available for mobile devices.

The Saudi’s, along with other governments, would also be able to monitor BES messages, which could have profound consequences in the corporate world assuming mismanagement.

Both the United States and the Canadian governments have made their positions clear, they fully support RIM in keeping its messaging fully secure to ensure the privacy of all communications through the BlackBerry.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in an official statement that there are legitimate security concerns, but went on to say that there is also a “legitimate right of free use and access.”

Currently, only about 40-percent of RIM’s 40-million+ subscribers are in North America, with the rest primarily spanning Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, among other regions.

There are about 700,000 BlackBerry customers in Saudi Arabia alone.

As more nations threaten to ban the BlackBerry, any complete ban could have a significant effect on the firm’s competitive position and bottom line, and could also adversely affect global economies and trade.

However, it is just as critical for RIM to stand its ground, and ensure the integrity of its services by maintaining privacy and top of the line secure messaging.

The United Arab Emirates has already set a deadline to block BlackBerry usage in the country starting this October unless a monitoring deal can be reached, which would require a RIM to provide keys so that the data can be accessed.

We are now waiting for RIM to provide more specific details, including implications for North American users (would their conversations with Saudi clients also be monitored?) with relation to the reached Saudi deal, and future deals.

Additional details from RIM are expected this week.

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Hercules holds a B.Comm Finance from Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. He is a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) level 3 candidate. He was previously a contributor at FiLife, a finance website owned by Dow Jones and IAC. Write to [email protected]
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  • Shan Waston

    Should America follow this example and examine every aspect of our security threats? I just read about a Muslim living in America for 15 years studying our security for a future advantage for our suposed harm.nnForce Factor

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