News Analysis: BlackBerry maker Research In Motion seems willing to let the Saudi Arabian government shut down Messenger rather than compromise the security of its mobile communications service. It appears to be a case of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object.
BlackBerry maker Research In Motion had last ditch talks
with the government of Saudi Arabia
today in an effort to forestall an order to shut down parts of the BlackBerry
wireless service, particularly its text messaging. But at this point, neither
side has given an inch.
In fact, RIM has sent a letter to its customers in
regions affected by threatened shutdowns saying that the company "assures
customers that it will not compromise the integrity and security of the
BlackBerry Enterprise Solution."
In a separate statement provided to eWEEK by RIM, the
company said, "The BlackBerry enterprise solution was designed to preclude
RIM or any third party from reading encrypted information under any
circumstances." In its statement to eWEEK, the company pointed out that
its encryption method requires that the user create the key, and that neither
RIM nor any carrier ever has possession of it. Because of this, it's impossible
for RIM to open up the encryption for the convenience of the Saudi government
or anyone else.
Meanwhile, in its letter to its owners, RIM said that
governments have the resources at their disposal to gather this information
without requiring it from RIM. The Saudi government, as is the case with
authoritarian regimes everywhere, is unhappy about this, claiming that people
might commit crimes using their BlackBerrys. This is similar to concerns
expressed by the governments of India,
Indonesia and Dubai.
The Saudi government, in a statement released to eWEEK by
the embassy press office here in Washington,
casts the problem as a licensing issue. The statement notes that the government's
Communications and Information Technology Commission notified carriers in the
country that RIM was not in compliance with its regulations a year ago. Now,
according to the statement, the government has requested the three carriers of
BlackBerry devices block those services by Aug. 7.
The Saudi Press Agency is quoting CITC as saying, "It's
keen on prompting telecom companies to provide the latest communication
services in conformity with license requirements." Those license
requirements include allowing the Saudi government to monitor the content of
all communications, including by providing keys to encryption, something that
RIM says it is unable to do.
RIM's position is that its commercial customers depend on
strong encryption and that RIM plans to deliver it. As the company points out,
RIM's security is strong enough that it's a preferred choice for a vast number
of enterprises and governments, including the government of Saudi
Arabia. Leaving aside for a moment the
question of whether the government itself is prepared to let its own
communications be unencrypted, the first questions that come to mind is why
these governments are so willing to alienate Western businesses that depend on
the confidentiality of their communications.