Early this month, officials in the United Arab Emirates announced they would be banning some of Research in Motion's services for BlackBerry smartphones beginning in October. They are concerned because text and message data is encrypted and sent through RIM's overseas servers, to which UAE officials do not have access. Because officials cannot monitor the data, they will block the services - in the interest of national security - for UAE residents and visitors alike.
India and Kuwait are reportedly considering similar bans, as is Saudi Arabia. As my colleague Carl Weinschenk suggested at the time, RIM and BlackBerry users should take the shutdown threats seriously, regardless of whether they view the governments' reasons valid for such threats. Weinschenk wrote:
A solution enabling governments to realize their legitimate security concerns while not compromising the privacy of subscribers would be a welcome step, of course. But it is a matter of time before shutdowns occur. This is not a problem that is going away...Smart companies must have alternative plans in place for the inevitable political power plays.
Folks at RIM are apparently thinking along the same lines. The Toronto-based company indicated this week that it is willing to lead an "industry forum" focused on finding solutions that will balance the Indian government's security concerns with the privacy concerns of smartphone users in that country. According to a Dow Jones story in The Wall Street Journal, the forum is focused in India because officials have set an Aug. 31 deadline to find a solution before the ban is implemented.
If the forum proves successful, we'll no doubt see more forums in some of the other countries considering BlackBerry bans.