RIM Blackberry Security Irks UAE, Saudi Arabia

There has been a lot of press over the latest countries that don’t want Blackberries in their country unless they can get access to monitor user communications. See, for example, the Washington Post, Techdirt, Engadget.

RIM designed Blackberry communications so they would be secure, in a way that RIM itself can’t even access them. That’s a great feature that makes privacy advocates, corporate users, and individual users very happy. 

But it also makes some governments very unhappy – particularly those who believe they need to spy on communications. Some to the extent that they threaten to ban use in their countries unless they get the access they want. Those countries feel the need to monitor for illegal activity, or for anti-government sentiment that we in North America would consider basic free speech. And the threat to ban irks governments like the US, because it affects US government officials and users that travel to those countries, and offends their views of free speech and individual empowerment. The attitude of most of us in North America is that those governments should just lighten up and stop trying to suppress or control the thoughts and activities of people.

But we can’t forget that this is all a matter of degree. US and Canada “lawful access” advocates want ways for law enforcement to access electronic communications to fight criminals and terrorists, and have similar concerns about encryption that modern communications technology provides. Law enforcement has always been able to do things like wiretaps with judicial oversight that requires some standard of reasonable cause before it happens. (Although one is often suspicious about what wholesale monitoring is done at the national security level of things.)

We need to think these things through very carefully in terms of what access is truly needed and effective to fight crime, and what is merely security theatre. Also what kind of rules, oversight, checks, and balances must go along with law enforcement access in order to balance that against rights to privacy and confidentiality.


  1. It’s interesting to me that these countries are citing counter-terrorism goals as their primary motivation. What’s good for the gander I guess.

  2. “Terrorism” = new code word for “I don’t agree with the crap that my government is spoon-feeding me.”

  3. To be clear, these are the countries that are the gander — Saudi and its neighbours have been vigorously engaged in counter-terrorism in ways that few of us can imagine. While these apartheid regimes leave much to be criticized, it is clear that the most active competition to these regimes is exactly these terrorist groups. As a result, counter-terrorism is a far more day-to-day activity in Saudi and other Gulf countries than in, for instance, Canada.