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Risk

Saudis Blink On BlackBerry Ban

RIM and officials in the kingdom will continue their efforts to hammer out a security deal.

Saudi Arabian officials said Tuesday that their threat to block BlackBerry messaging service in the country is off the table—at least for the time being.

Officials with the Communications and Information Technology Commission said their talks with BlackBerry manufacturer Research In Motion, of Waterloo, Ontario, had yielded "positive results" over the past several days, according to Reuters.

"In light of positive developments toward addressing some of the organizational requirements … the commission decided to allow BlackBerry messenger services to continue," the Saudi Arabian CITC said, in a statement cited by the news agency.

Saudi authorities and RIM have been at loggerheads over the BlackBerry's encryption technology in recent days. The Saudis say they need the ability to intercept BlackBerry traffic for anti-terrorism and other security purposes, while RIM has insisted it does not have the ability to turn over users' security keys to third parties.

Reports suggest a compromise may be in the offing, under which RIM would place a BlackBerry server within Saudi Arabia. The server would be configured so as to be accessible to Saudi security officials.

The dispute echoes similar standoffs between RIM and other countries that claim they need access to BlackBerry messages. The United Arab Emirates has threatened to block BlackBerry traffic starting in October unless a compromise is reached, while India has also raised the possibility of a crackdown.

Indian officials say they need to be able to intercept BlackBerry messages in cases where they suspect the devices are being used to plot terror attacks or other crimes.

RIM has offered to give Indian officials the IP addresses of its BlackBerry Enterprise Servers and PIN and IMEI numbers of BlackBerry handsets. But the offer has thus far failed to satisfy security officials in India, which has been subject to a number of high-profile attacks in recent years—including strikes on the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels.

RIM and Indian authorities plan to continue their talks. Meanwhile, Indian officials on Tuesday raised the possibility of halting planned rollouts of 3G services by private carriers in the country until security concerns are met.

RIM, which manages its own messaging traffic, faces a dilemma when it comes to meeting national governments' security demands. The BlackBerry's strong encryption tools have made it the device of choice for high-end business users. But, with mounting competition from Apple, Google, and others, RIM can ill afford to alienate authorities that represent some of the world's hottest growth markets.

At the same time, authorities in those markets need to balance security concerns against their desire to attract investment from Western tech companies. Overly strict telecommunications policies could scare off those dollars.

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