UAE to block BlackBerry features
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) 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.
Neighbouring Saudi Arabia also indicated it planned to follow suit.
The decision could prevent hundreds of thousands of users in the Middle East country from accessing email and the internet on the handsets from October, putting the federation's reputation as a business-friendly commercial and tourism hub at risk.
BlackBerry data is encrypted and routed overseas, and the measure could be motivated in part by government fears that the messaging system could be exploited by terrorists or other criminals who cannot be monitored by local authorities.
However, analysts and activists also see it as an attempt to more tightly control the flow of information in the conservative country, a US ally that is home to the Gulf business capital Dubai and the oil-rich emirate of Abu Dhabi.
Within hours of the announcement on Sunday, a telecommunications official in neighbouring Saudi Arabia said the desert kingdom would begin blocking the BlackBerry messaging service starting later this month.
Like in Saudi Arabia, government censors in the UAE already routinely block access to websites and other media deemed to carry content that runs contrary to the nation's conservative Islamic values or could stoke political unrest.
In announcing the ban, the UAE telecommunications watchdog said it will suspend BlackBerry messaging, email and web browsing services starting on October 11.
It was unclear if the ban would affect only local users or foreign visitors with roaming services as well.
Regulators say the devices operate outside of laws put in place after the smart phone's introduction in the country, and that the lack of compliance with local laws raises "judicial, social and national security concerns for the UAE".