(photo credit: AP Photo)
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia
— Some Saudis were trying to sell their BlackBerrys ahead of a ban on
the smart phone's messenger service in the kingdom — but with few
willing to buy, they're having to slash prices.The kingdom is one of a number of countries expressing concern that the
device is a security threat because encrypted information sent on the
phones is routed through overseas computers — making it impossible for
local governments to monitor. The United Arab Emirates has announced it
will ban BlackBerry e-mail, messaging and Web browsing starting in
October, and Indonesia and India are also demanding greater control over
telecoms regulatory agency announced earlier this week the service would
be halted Friday. One Saudi newspaper, Okaz, said the halt would begin
at the end of the day, at midnight, but it was still operating an hour
after that deadline passed.
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Canadian officials were in talks with the BlackBerry's Canada-based
maker, Research in Motion, Ltd., and Saudi officials in a bid to avert
the ban, Canadian International Trade Minister Peter Van Loan told The
"We are making progress," he said, though he said that didn't mean a
deal was imminent. "We'll keep talking ... Hopefully we can work toward a
A Saudi telecom official said talks were to continue on Saturday. One
solution being discussed was for RIM to put a server inside the kingdom,
the Saudi official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of
the sensitivity of the discussions.
On Friday, Lebanon said it is also looking into whether BlackBerry use
raises security concerns there — in part because of allegations that
Israeli spies are trying to infiltrate phone networks in Lebanon. This
summer, Lebanese authorities charged two employees at the state-owned
Alfa mobile phone company with spying for Israel. A third suspect worked
for the land-line operator Ogero.
Lebanon's main concern is "the ability of our security and judicial
groups to access the data ... when it is required by law and when the
security situation requires it," Imad Hoballah, the acting head of the
Telecoms Regulatory Authority, told the AP in an interview in Beirut.
In Saudi Arabia — which local media say has some 750,000 BlackBerry
users — the ban has raised accusations the government is trying to
further curb freedom of expression.
"The real reason behind the ban is the freedom granted by BlackBerry
messenger to its users to criticize, object and mock," columnist Adhwan
al-Ahmari wrote in the Al-Watan daily. "Do authorities think that all
security breaches will end with the ban of BlackBerry messenger?" he
asked, pointing out extremist groups have other ways to communicate.
Saudi Arabia's telecommunications regulator, known as the Communications
and Information Technology Commission, announced the imminent ban on
Tuesday, saying the BlackBerry service "in its present state does not
meet regulatory requirements," according to the state news agency SPA.
Saudi security officials fear the service could be used by militant
groups. The kingdom has been waging a crackdown for years against
Saudi Arabia also enforces heavy policing of the Internet, blocking sites both for political content and for obscenities.
Expectations of the ban have pushed some to sell their devices. At
Riyadh's main mobile phone market, dozens of young men on the street
were trying to sell the devices, some in their original packaging, and
some running at more than half the normal price.
Not everyone was unhappy. Some religious leaders saw the ban as a boost
for the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom's morals. Sheik Mohammed
al-Najmi, a cleric involved in a government program that aims to
rehabilitate Islamic extremists in prison, said the BlackBerry messenger
was "dangerous" because some young men get addicted to it.
Also, he said, "there are some porn sites that young men exchange and
which are not under any control or surveillance since messages are
BlackBerry phones are known to be popular both among businesspeople and
youth in the kingdom who see the phones' relatively secure communication
features as a way to avoid attention from the authorities.