BlackBerry ban: Is UAE trying to crack down on Dubai's wild ways?
BlackBerry ban coming to the UAE is intended to improve security after Dubai's 'Wild West' ways came under scrutiny after a brash assassination earlier this year.
United Arab Emirates “crackberry” addicts bracing for inevitably long and hard pangs of withdrawal if the impending BlackBerry ban goes into effect may take solace knowing that the suspension is likely more posturing than an official policy.
“The UAE is a pretty pragmatic country in a lot of ways. I think this is probably a negotiating stance,” says Jim Krane, author of City of Gold: Dubai and the Dream of Capitalism. “I suspect it will be solved probably within a few days or weeks.”
Citing security concerns, UAE government officials said on Sunday they would suspend BlackBerry services like e-mail and messaging in October. Saudi Arabia has indicated that it will likely follow suit as well. BlackBerrys use an encryption system that keeps the data safe, and consequently makes it difficult for governments to monitor.
With a relatively small security force, the UAE relies heavily on electronic eavesdropping to monitor for any potentially subversive activities. The Gulf nation has been particularly on edge after a Hamas leader was assassinated in Dubai earlier this year – a plot the Dubai police blamed on Mossad, Israel's spy agency. The suspects were able to leave the country before authorities knew their identities.
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Privacy concerns vs. security
Although privacy rights advocates have accused the UAE of wanting to increase censorship restrictions, Mr. Krane says security is likely their primary concern.
Emirates leaders are most likely pushing for the ability to subpoena BlackBerry messages in the event the user is implicated in a crime. This privilege is already afforded to governments in the United States and Canada. The US is even pushing for the ability to request such information without a subpoena.
“Openness and tolerance is key to [the UAE’s] economy. It can’t be an open and tolerant place if it starts to impose police state-style security,” says Krane.
Still, unlike the US and Canada, the legal system in Dubai lacks enough transparency that BlackBerry may feel uneasy giving information about their users to UAE authorities.
“In the UAE if a subpoena of BlackBerry were made available, what could happen to the person who ends up being arrested? The human rights record is pretty grim. Also, how responsible are the authorities?” says Christopher Davidson, author of “Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success.” “I’m not sure that the citizens and the residents of the UAE would be comfortable with the authorities having access to their private communications.”
Mr. Davidson adds that although UAE authorities say they are acting in the same of security, it is highly likely that they want to curtail activists who often use BlackBerrys to organize protests or send controversial information about government officials.