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BlackBerry Torch 9800 launch clouded by security spat with UAE

The United Arab Emirates wants greater access to BlackBerry communications data. Research in Motion, which released its new BlackBerry Torch 9800 on Tuesday, could lose a lucrative market.

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"Certain BlackBerry services allow users to act without any legal accountability, causing judicial, social and national security concerns," the authority said.

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BlackBerry services including encrypted e-mail, web-browsing, and instant messaging will be suspended in October unless the two sides reach a deal.

The dispute calls fresh attention to a policy arena of growing importance – the balance of power between technology users and governments. Tussles between Google and the government of China are another recent case in point.

Gadgets like smartphones empower people in many positive ways, but can also be used as tools of terrorism, prompting calls for governmental surveillance ability. Human-rights activists worry, meanwhile, that such surveillance could endanger legitimate social activism in some countries.

The US State Department has criticized the UAE move. "We're disappointed," a department spokeswoman told Toronto's Globe and Mail newspaper. "It's not about the Canadian company, it's about what we think is an important element of human rights ... and the free flow of information."

The Committee to Protect Journalists, in a Tuesday statement, described itself as alarmed.

“Handheld digital devices have become essential equipment for journalists, who rely on them to share information and do their reporting,” the group's executive director, Joel Simon, said. “The government’s plan to disable the devices will make the UAE a less hospitable place for the journalists and undermine efforts to make the kingdom a global media center.”

For its part, RIM is keeping mostly silent, but has said in a statement that it "is committed to continue delivering highly secure and innovative products that satisfy the needs of both customers and governments."

It is touting the new Torch smartphone as combining the best of a BlackBerry – including a slide-out keyboard – and "a full touch screen experience."