DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates’ telecommunition watchdog says BlackBerry smartphones are a potential threat to the country’s national security and it is seeking changes in how the devices operate.
Authorities’ alarm over the phones comes a year after the Middle East country’s biggest state-run mobile operator was caught encouraging unwitting BlackBerry users to install software on the devices that could allow outsiders to peer inside. The government has never made fully clear what happened in that case.
The latest comments from the Emirati regulator raise questions about the gadgets’ legality in the country, home to the Mideast business hub of Dubai. They also highlight the government’s efforts to control the flow of information in the Arab Gulf nation, which actively censors websites and other forms of media seen as harming national security or conservative local values.
The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority said in a statement carried late yesterday on the state news agency that BlackBerry devices operate “beyond the jurisdiction” of national laws because the data they carry is managed by a foreign company.
“As a result of how Blackberry data is managed and stored, in their current form, certain Blackberry applications allow people to misuse the service, causing serious social, judicial and national security repercussions,” the regulator said.
“Like many other countries, we have been working for a long time to resolve these critical issues, with the objective of finding a solution that safeguards our consumers and operates within the boundaries of UAE law,” it added.
The TRA said the devices were launched in the UAE before “safety, emergency and national security legislation” regulating their use was enacted in 2007. It did not specify what changes it is seeking.
Efforts to reach TRA officials by phone were unsuccessful. The agency’s media office sent a copy of the statement carried by the official WAM news service but would give no further clarification.
A Dubai-based spokeswoman for BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd. said the Canadian company did not yet have any comment.
Just over a year ago, RIM criticized a directive by UAE state-owned mobile operator Etisalat telling the company’s more than 145,000 BlackBerry users to install software described as an “upgrade … required for service enhancements.”
RIM said tests showed the update was in fact spy software that could allow outsiders to access private information stored on the phones. It strongly distanced itself from Etisalat’s decision, and provided details instructing users how to remove the software.