News reports over the weekend indicate that Research in Motion (RIM) and Saudi Arabia have come to an understanding which enables Blackberry's messenger service to continue to operate in the country.
The Saudi Arabian government had announced last week that it would be banning Blackberry instant messaging services beginning on the 6th of August
According to this APreport over the weekend, RIM has agreed to place a server in Saudi Arabia which the government can monitor for criminal activities and national security purposes.
Another AP story says that this may set a precedent for other countries like the United Arab Emirates and India among others who want more access to Blackberry information.
Given that Blackberry data is encrypted (corporate account information at a stronger level of encryption than consumer account information, which a lot is not), the question is whether the Saudi Arabian government will get Blackberry encryption keys as well.
This New York Timesarticle today says that, "RIM officials flatly denied last week that the company had cut deals with certain countries to grant authorities special access to the BlackBerry system. They also said RIM would not compromise the security of its system."
The article also notes that, "At the same time, RIM says it complies with regulatory requirements around the world."
Squaring that circle is an interesting question to ponder, and has led to talk of secret deals being made to allow Blackberry data to be read. The Times article, for instance, notes that US law enforcement has expressed little "frustration" with dealing with Blackberry encryption.
A different AP story late yesterday reported that Bahrain's Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa said his country would not be banning Blackberry services, even though they may pose some security concerns. Sheikh Khalid was quoted as saying, "There are many other ways for the criminals or terrorists to communicate, so we decided we might as well live with it."
According to this last AP story, Shaikh Khalid posted a message last Thursday in his Twitter account, saying that it had come from the Bahrain's crown prince, Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa.
In it, Shaikh Khalid quoted Shaikh Salman as "offering assurances no ban on messaging was planned, saying a decision to halt the service would be 'ignorant, short sighted and unenforceable.' "
Whether that sentiment will go much further than Bahrain, remains to be seen.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.