RIM, Saudi Arabia Negotiating over BlackBerry Text Shutdown

RIM and the Saudi Arabian government are apparently in talks to prevent a shutdown of BlackBerry text messaging over security issues. India and RIM are also at odds over BlackBerry encryption, which the Indian government says can be potentially used for hassle-free criminal communications.

Research In Motion and the Saudi Arabian government are engaged in "last-ditch" talks to avoid a planned Aug. 6 shutdown of BlackBerry text messaging in the country, according to reports.

"[The ban] is only for the Messenger. Negotiations are still going on, the deadline is final," Sultan al-Malik, a member of Saudi Arabia's CITC (Communications and Information Technology Commission), told Reuters Aug. 4.

The news comes on the heels of RIM's India controversy, with officials there threatening to shut down the company's operations unless it addresses concerns about BlackBerry encryption. India's Department of Telecommunications feels that terrorists and other miscreants could use BlackBerry security to send unbreakable messages, and wants RIM to take steps that ensure fuller government access to users' communications.

RIM has so far pushed back against government monitoring of its services, arguing that its use of strong security is essential for its corporate clients. However, this is not the first round of complaints about BlackBerry's commercial-grade encryption; for years, governments and law enforcement have complained about criminals relying on BlackBerry, which utilizes private encryption keys assigned specifically to individual users.

In October 2008, for example, the Royal Canadian Police reported an increase in bad guys' BlackBerry usage. "The BlackBerry [server] was created with corporate data security in mind," stated an agency report at the time, according to The Vancouver Sun. "Until recently, this system was affordable by companies such as Telus, CIBC and the like; they are now more affordable and it is easy for individuals to set up a network."

The controversy with India and Saudi Arabia, however, hasn't impeded RIM's strategy in the United States. On Aug. 3, RIM executives launched the new BlackBerry Torch 9800 during a high-profile presentation in New York. The company's first sliding keyboard smartphone with a capacitive touch screen, the Torch is designed to combat increasingly fierce competitors in the mobile space, particularly the Apple iPhone and Google Android.

"In order to create a bulwark against incursions in their market from Apple and Google, RIM needs to expand its footprint," Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT Research, told eWEEK in an Aug. 3 interview. "RIM became the device of choice in the business market because they represented the cutting edge of that market five, six, seven years ago."

But with evolving technology, King added, "Business smartphone users of every sort are thinking of their devices as multimedia devices, enabled to do everything from e-mail to video conferencing to MP3 files. So it makes perfect sense for RIM to try and update with its own products." In addition, the increased multimedia capability allows RIM to make a stronger play for the consumer market, currently the target of its rivals.

During the company's Aug. 3 presentation, RIM executives made no mention of the BlackBerry's vaunted security.