UAE, Saudi Blocking of BlackBerry Signals Growing Censorship
The decision by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia to block BlackBerry services within their borders is a clear attempt to restrict freedom of expression and association in their countries, according to Freedom House.
The UAE announced Sunday that it will block all BlackBerry data services beginning October 10th, citing threats to national security. The announcement came just days after several youth were arrested for using BlackBerry messaging to organize a peaceful protest, and just a year after the government attempted to disguise spyware as a Blackberry software update. Saudi telecom officials told media the country would follow suit and ban BlackBerry messaging services by the end of August.
“The decisions by the UAE and Saudi Arabia to block access to and exchange of information are particularly disturbing since the fight for free expression is increasingly being waged through digital media,” said Paula Schriefer, director of advocacy of Freedom House. “Such attempts to restrict information flows could result in a domino effect as governments are emboldened to sacrifice freedoms in the name of security.”
BlackBerry appears to have been targeted because all data is encrypted and routed through overseas servers, thus circumventing the ability of governments to conduct surveillance on data flows. Research in Motion, the maker of BlackBerry, has thus far withstood the government’s efforts to monitor and have access to its secure network in the UAE, including proactively warning the public about the spyware patch last year.
“Attempts by governments to control digital information exchange highlight a developing trend of forcing companies to choose between being complicit in government repression in exchange for access to lucrative markets or upholding universally guaranteed human rights,” said Robert Guerra, Freedom House’s internet freedom project director. “It is incumbent upon democratic governments, including the United States and Canada, to not only resist this trend at home, but to condemn it in the strongest terms abroad.”
The UAE and Saudi Arabia are ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World 2010, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties.
For more information on the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, visit:
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