Saudi BlackBerry users shocked by ban
JEDDAH, (AFP) – BlackBerry users in Saudi Arabia expressed shock Wednesday at the telecom regulator’s decision to suspend its services, as shops claimed people were abandoning the smartphone en masse.
The Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) announced late Tuesday that it had ordered the kingdom’s three mobile phone providers to block all services of BlackBerry for failing to conform with the country’s regulations.
The shutdown order came two days after the United Arab Emirates said it will cut off some BlackBerry services on October 11 over security concerns, unless the Canadian maker of the phone agrees to bring the service in line with local laws.
BlackBerry’s encrypted emails and data are stored on servers in Canada, the headquarters of its maker, Research in Motion. That means that third parties, such as security agencies, cannot monitor communications sent and received on the handset.
“This is an unfair decision. It should be revised,” said Mohammed Azib, 24, an accountant, who was looking into selling his phone.
“It is not our fault if telecommunication companies failed to adhere to commitments. Yesterday we were told that the service will continue, and now we are told that it will go off,” he complained.
CITC said it had given the providers a notice period to get RIM to “meet the regulatory demands,” and that it had warned those companies over a year ago about the need to address the issue.
The services will be banned until its demands are met, the commission added, without specifying conditions.
“The commission wants RIM to allow government bodies to spy on subscribers. Why don’t they say the truth?,” a commentator wrote on the website of Al-Watan daily under the pseudonym, “Chief of Liberals.”
There are more than 700,000 BlackBerry subscribers in Saudi Arabia, where the Internet is strictly censored. Some have already despaired of using their devices, whose prices have started to tumble in the local market.
“People are rushing to sell at any price while shops are refusing to buy,” said Ayub Bafaqir, 28, a cellphone salesman in Jeddah told AFP.
“In the UAE, people at least have time until October, while here in Saudi Arabia, the decision will be implemented the day after tomorrow,” he said.
“This morning I had a man and five of his sons coming in offering to sell their BlackBerry phones at a very tempting price. But I had to turn down the offer. No one is willing to take chances,” said Mshari al-Nasser, 35, another salesman.
“The phone that we used to sell for 1,100 riyal (293 dollars) is on offer now for 920 riyals (245 dollars), and there are no takers,” he said.
But not everyone is upset.
“This decision should have been taken a long time ago. It is rather late,” said office clerk Badr al-Qahtani, 25.
“People have abused the services of BlackBerry. Moreover, the security of the homeland is paramount,” he added.
RIM is also under pressure from India to give security services access to its encrypted communication.
On Tuesday, it denied allegations that it has made concessions to any government, saying it would not “compromise” on the security of its clients.