UAE 'security' curbs for BlackBerry phones

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The United Arab Emirates said yesterday it will block key features on BlackBerry smartphones, citing national security concerns because the devices operate beyond the government's ability to monitor their use, and officials in neighbouring Saudi Arabia indicated it planned to follow suit.

The decision could prevent hundreds of thousands of users in the Middle Eastern federation from accessing email and the internet on the handsets from October, putting the UAE's reputation as a commercial and tourism hub at risk.

The measure could be motivated in part by fears that the BlackBerry's encrypted messaging system might be exploited by terrorists. Just over a year ago, BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM) criticised a directive by UAE state-owned mobile operator Etisalat telling more than 145,000 BlackBerry users to install software described as an "upgrade ... required for service enhancements". RIM said tests showed the update was spy software that could allow outsiders to access information stored on the phones.