SAUDI ARABIA. The makers of the BlackBerry smartphone held last-ditch talks with Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to avert a threatened cut-off of a key service.
Research In Motion (RIM) is facing mounting demands from governments around the world for access to its vaunted encryption system on national security grounds. The spat, which has highlighted the access some states seem to have in comparison to others, threatens to cut off some 2 million BlackBerry users in the Gulf and India.
Security officials in India, a giant growth market for mobile communications, warned the service would be halted if the company failed to meet its concerns, a newspaper reported. "We are very clear that any BlackBerry service that cannot be fully intercepted by our agencies must be discontinued,"
The Economic Times quoted an unnamed security official as saying. "Offering access to data is part of the telecom licensing guidelines and has to be adhered to." An Indian government source told Reuters that RIM had proposed to share some details of its BlackBerry services but security agencies were demanding full access to a messaging service it fears could be misused by militants.
RIM has said BlackBerry security is based on a system where customers create their own key and the company neither has a master key nor any "back door" to enable RIM or any third party to gain access to crucial corporate data. The company said on Wednesday it has never provided anything unique to the government of one country and cannot accommodate any request for a copy of a customer's encryption key.
The Saudi telecoms regulator met senior RIM officials ahead of a Friday deadline to cut BlackBerry Messenger text messaging service on August 6 in the kingdom, the world's biggest oil exporter.
"(The ban) is only for the Messenger. Negotiations are still going on, the deadline is final," said Sultan al-Malik from the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC).
CITC said on Tuesday it had informed the kingdom's three mobile operators of the ban. "The instructions for this ban are coming from high up, it's not like any decision that has been issued by CITC before. They will have to stop it, period," said another CITC official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
RIM officials Frenny Bawa and Khaled Kefel are in the talks which also include technical and regulatory experts from Saudi Arabia's three mobile telecoms firms, a source at one of the telecoms firms told Reuters. "The talks are still ongoing," the source said.