Lebanon also investigates BlackBerry services

Lebanon’s telecom regulator said Friday that it will start negotiations with Research In Motion (RIM) Ltd. to provide the country’s security agencies access to communications on the BlackBerry network.

The move follows a security assessment of the country’s telecommunications networks, said Imad Hoballah, acting chairman and CEO of Lebanon’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), in a telephone interview on Friday.

As part of this exercise, TRA has brought under scrutiny services like RIM’s that are encrypted, and is looking into ways in which the country’s security agencies can get access to the data when it is required, Hoballah said.

The regulator will initiate discussions with RIM next week, Hoballah said. 

One option the country is looking at is to ask RIM to have a server in Lebanon, to which the security forces will legally have access to, Hoballah said. “They will have to provide access either through the (encryption) key or access at the server level,” he added.

Lebanon may also contact other countries that have similar issues with RIM to see if there could be other possible solutions at the regional level, Hoballah said. 

The regulator later will also ask other services in the country that use encryption to provide similar access to security agencies, according to Hoballah.

Lebanon has joined a growing number of countries that are demanding greater access to data running on RIM’s BlackBerry service. Saudi Arabia’s suspension of BlackBerry services is scheduled to start on Friday, while the United Arab Emirates has said that BlackBerry services in that country would be suspended from Oct. 11.

India is also demanding that RIM provide its security agencies access to BlackBerry communications, as it fears that terrorists are using the network for planning their activities. In Indonesia, the local regulator wants RIM to have a server in the country so that local data does not travel to RIM’s servers in Canada.

Lebanon has arrested in the last year a large number of people in the country on charges of spying for Israel. “We have had major infiltration of our communications networks which became evident from the arrest of spies in Lebanon,” Hoballah said.

The move to ask RIM to provide access to BlackBerry communications is linked to the country’s attempts to protect its security, and is not a bid to snoop on its population, Hoballah said.

The country’s legal system is fully equipped to make it mandatory for RIM and other service providers to give access to information when required by security agencies, Hoballah said. Lebanon has decided to approach RIM now as the security problem has become more urgent in recent weeks. Lebanon arrested three people, including employees of a state telecom operator, on charges of spying, according to reports.

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