UAE crackdown on BlackBerry services to extend to foreign visitors

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The UAE said it will block key features on BlackBerry smart phones, citing national security concerns because the devices operate beyond the government's ability to monitor their use. Saudi Arabia quickly indicated it planned to follow suit.

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By Associated Press
Tuesday, August 3, 2010

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES -- The United Arab Emirates' crackdown on BlackBerry services will extend to foreign visitors, putting the government's concerns over the smartphones in direct conflict with the country's ambitions to be a business and tourism haven.

The UAE's telecommunications regulator said Monday that travelers to the city-state of Dubai and the important oil industry center of Abu Dhabi will -- like 500,000 local subscribers -- have to do without BlackBerry e-mail, messaging and Web services starting Oct. 11, even when they carry phones issued in other countries. The handsets themselves will still be allowed for phone calls.

UAE authorities say the move is based on security concerns because BlackBerry transmissions are automatically routed to company computers abroad, where it is difficult for local authorities to monitor for illegal activity or abuse.

Critics of the crackdown say it is also a way for the country's conservative government to further control content it deems politically or morally objectionable.

About 100,000 travelers pass through Dubai's airport each day, making it the busiest airport in the Middle East. The new restrictions could leave time-pressed business travelers hurrying through, many of them changing planes for other destinations, without access to their e-mail or the Web.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley called the restrictions "a move in the wrong direction."


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