Lebanon to assess security concerns over BlackBerry use

Lebanon will assess security concerns linked to the use of BlackBerry smartphones following the arrest of several telecoms employees suspected of spying for Israel, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority chairman said on Thursday.

Imad Hoballah said the TRA planned to begin discussions with Research in Motion, BlackBerry's Canada-based manufacturer, next week.

He also said that the TRA's move was not in reaction to a decision by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to suspend BlackBerry services.

"This is prompted by the increase of security issues that have been found with the telecommunication networks in Lebanon," Hoballah told AFP.

"I am not doubting the ability of BlackBerry to maintain communication security," he said. "This is related to the ability of law enforcement agencies to access the data as may be required by law."

"It's basically access to the data or the servers in the country," he added. "We need to make an arrangement with BlackBerry or come to an understanding with them that satisfies law enforcement concerns."

He said the TRA had also initiated discussions with government agencies and ministries on this issue.

"We have been going through a security assessment for a while," Hoballah said.

Lebanon has arrested three suspects over the past month in an expanding probe into an alleged network of Israeli spies employed in its telecoms sector.

Two of the suspects worked at Alfa, one of Lebanon's two mobile service providers, and the third was a former employee.

Press reports this week said an employee at Ogero, the government-owned telecoms operator, had also been arrested.

BlackBerry's representative in Lebanon could not be immediately reached for comment on Thursday.

India is also mulling BlackBerry restrictions over fears that its encrypted services, which involve data being routed through secure servers in Canada, could be used by militants or others for criminal activities.

RIM founder and co-chief executive Mike Lazaridis has said that allowing governments to monitor messages would imperil the firm's ties with customers, including major corporations and law enforcement agencies.