Saudi Arabia Poised to Punish the Messenger

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2010-08-04 Print this article Print

In the case of Saudi Arabia, the answer is probably that it doesn't care. Remember, this is a government that some regard as, as totalitarian as North Korea, and has approximately the same regard for human rights, except that North Korea doesn't single out its women for slavelike status. Remember also that this is a government that willingly allowed a school full of young girls to burn to death rather than let them seek safety without having male relatives to escort them. Human rights are clearly not a priority in Saudi Arabia.

The real fear by the Saudi government is almost certainly that human rights advocates might be able to communicate with each other. This is, of course, a huge risk, since the free flow of information is the enemy of despots everywhere.

The situation in Dubai makes less sense. Here's a nation that's been seeking Western investment. It's been trying to make itself seem to be the commercial hub of the Middle East. But now, it wants to compromise the commercial activities of the companies it wants to attract. By doing this, it gives those companies one more reason to find some other place to do business.

And this isn't just because Western businesses want to keep secrets. The fact is that they're required by their governments to keep information protected, regardless of the desires of the governments that they may travel through. If you're traveling through one of these countries, do you think your compliance auditors are going to accept the Saudi government's paranoia as an excuse for a security breach?

But realistically, this may not actually come to pass. There are millions of BlackBerry users in each of these countries, and despite the total disregard for the rights of their citizens, the Saudi government is probably not in a position to say no to all those business users who will go elsewhere if forced to do so by the government.

The same is even truer in Dubai, which is desperate to attract business, especially given the worry caused by the government's huge debt. That government has to choose whether to simply give up on attracting Western companies or think of some other way to satisfy its cultural worries. On the other hand, Dubai has given RIM until October to come up with a solution. It's entirely possible that the problem will quietly slip out of sight in the meantime.

RIM, unfortunately, is learning the truth about a saying that is frequently heard here in Washington: No good deed goes unpunished. RIM's good deed was making its devices as secure as its customers needed them to be. Now the company is being punished for doing its job too well.

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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