Eligible to use BlackBerry encrypted services?

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The United Arab Emirates is pushing ahead with restricting who is eligible to use BlackBerry encrypted services. According to plans outlined earlier in April, the telecommunication authority plans to restrict access to full-encrypted BlackBerry Enterprise services to companies with at least 20 user accounts. Firms and organizations with fewer accounts would be required to shift to BlackBerry Internet Service, which still provides access to email, calendaring, and other BlackBerry services, but which should be easier for authorities to monitor since the traffic moves over the standard Internet rather than via encrypted communications to gateway services.

Last year, the BlackBerry service in UAE was about to be suspended entirely.  The reasons behind such actions partially may be that  RIM’s practice of storing messages and other information in offshore data centers  may be considered  illegal. Etisalat sent notices to BlackBerry subscribers requiring them to install an “update” to access new features; RIM later identified the “update” as spyware that enabled Etisalat to monitor BlackBerry communications. A few months later, RIM reached an undisclosed arrangement with the UAE that enabled BlackBerry services to continue operation.

Governments’ concern over fully-encrypted communications provided by BlackBerry Enterprise stems from the possibility terrorists or militants could use the services to securely plan attacks and other destabilizing actions. Governments are demanding the ability to access mobile communications lawfully in order to combat potential threats.

RIM, the Canadian company behind the BlackBerry, recently has been under an increasing amount of pressure from international governments to provide security services with real-time access to encrypted communications. Although the company has worked with a number of governments to reach compromises, RIM still maintains there is no major back door to its encrypted corporate services that it can open for lawful government access. One of the proposed solutions is  locating BlackBerry servers within the borders of some countries, rather than in overseas data centers.

RIM and other major Internet operators, such as like Nokia, Google, and Skype face similar concerns in a number of countries, including India.

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