RIM looks at ways to ease fears over BlackBerrys
Wednesday 04 August 2010
Research in Motion (RIM) has agreed to some of the demands of emerging market governments to curb uses for its BlackBerry smartphones, including banning access to certain websites to users in Kuwait and reaching a compromise that will allow security services in India to monitor traffic.
The concessions come as the Canadian firm is locked in battle with the authorities in the United Arab Emirates, which said they will ban BlackBerrys in the country from 11 October unless RIM also unlocks some of its security features there.
That issue was threatening to blow up into a diplomatic incident, after criticism of the UAE from the US State Department was angrily rebutted by the country's ambassador.
RIM's chief technology officer, David Yach, speaking at the glitzy launch of the latest BlackBerry device in New York, said governments would have trouble shutting down Blackberry services entirely, because most of them rely on the service themselves.
The very security that emerging market governments have criticised – including encryption of internet and messaging data, passing through servers in Canada – is what has made the device attractive to ministers, regulators and security staff, he said.
RIM will "stick to its guns" on promises it made to customers about security while still cooperating with governments, Mr Yach said, adding that part of cooperating with governments includes educating them on security.
"I believe they'll have trouble pulling the trigger to shut down BlackBerry. Most governments in the world rely on BlackBerry," he said.
The executive told attendees at the BlackBerry Torch launch that while RIM cannot provide governments with access to corporate customers' emails, it could suggest they go to corporations directly with lawful intercept authorisation.
A US State Department spokesman described the planned ban in the UAE as setting a "dangerous precedent" that could encourage other nations to limit the flow of information.
RIM has remained silent on the substance of the regulatory battles across the world, but in private has indicated a willingness to compromise. It was reported in Kuwait that the government there has asked RIM to block 3,000 sites it regards as pornographic, and that the company has given "initial approval" and sought until the end of the year to implement the block.
And India's Economic Times reported that RIM will allow the country's security agencies to monitor BlackBerry devices. The company has offered to share technical codes for corporate email and to open up, within 15 days, access to consumer emails.
Foreign governments' demands to win greater oversight of BlackBerry use stem from a mix of national security and public morality concerns. In the Middle East, the device's instant messaging service has become a popular way to circumvent conventions against mixing between the sexes.
The UAE cited national security concerns in its response to State Department criticism. "In fact, the UAE is asking for exactly the same regulatory compliance – and with the same principles of judicial and regulatory oversight – that BlackBerry grants the US and other governments and nothing more," its ambassador, Yousef al-Otaiba, said in a statement.
"The UAE requires the same compliance as the US for the very same reasons: to protect national security and to assist in law enforcement."
RIM shares fell yesterday for the second session in a row since the UAE announced its ban.
Analysts fear that concessions to governments could undermine the reputation for security on which its following among Western businessmen has been built, but equally that failing to comply with local attempts at regulation could hamper BlackBerry sales in fast-growing economies.
Torch takes on iPhone
Finally, a BlackBerry that combines the instinctive touchscreen technology popularised by the Apple iPhone with the full qwerty keyboard that made the "crackberry" so addictive for corporate executives in the first place.
The Blackberry Torch was unveiled at an event in Manhattan yesterday with all the razzmatazz that Steve Jobs usually manages for his latest device, complete with weeks of internet teasers and thumping music at the launch itself.
The device – which features an improved web browser and better apps, to appeal to the consumer market – will be on sale in the US next week for $199.99 (£125). It includes a camera, GPS for location-based applications and integrates access to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
The company did not immediately give a UK launch date.
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