Making sense of the BlackBerry ban in the United Arab Emirates

International markets. Open borders. Globalization. A shrinking world.

Those are words and phrases that will get you good marks on a written assignment for your MBA, or applause when you are giving a speech at a business luncheon in downtown Toronto. But companies who do business in most of the Middle East got a rude awakening earlier this week when they found out the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia will stop allowing certain BlackBerry services from Research in Motion Ltd.
I suspect this move will also come as a shock to CrackBerry addicts from Canada, the U.S. and other liberal democracies who live and work in the Middle East but keep forgetting that there’s only liberal democracy in the Middle East and it’s neither the UAE nor Saudi Arabia.
(Pointing out the name of the only liberal democracy in the Middle East tends to piss Western liberals off, so I will only say it's the Biblical land of milk and honey and Uzis and Merkava tanks)
The only thing that surprised me about the BlackBerry ban is it didn’t happen sooner.
But fortunately, Network World Canada got a transcript, in a brown envelope, of what appears to be a transcript of the discussion leading up to the ban.
Well, actually we didn’t, but if, hypothetically, we did, here’s what it might look like.
The conversation is between a guy from a government security agency GGSA and a guy from the incumbent telephone company (GFITC).
GGSA: Hey it’s me. I need to get some e-mails from customer X as soon as possible. My people will give your people the details, like his BlackBerry account number. When can I get them?
GFITC: Uh, did you say he’s a BlackBerry user?
GGSA: Yeah. Why, is there a problem?
GFITC: Well, yeah. I could get you what we sniffed out the network but it’s encrypted so it’s going to be gibberish. I mean, I might as well send it to you in English.
GGSA: Well, I was an exchange student at MIT, so I understand English, but I get your point. So you need to get the data from the servers and decrypt it.
GFITC: But all that data is on RIM’s servers, which are in Canada. If you want it, talk to the Canadian ambassador.
GGSA: Do you have his e-mail address?
GFITC: Well, I’m being sarcastic. It’s not as if the Canadian ambassador can get a search warrant for RIM’s servers or order RIM to decrypt anyone’s messages.
GGSA: You’ve got to be kidding me. Well, how do you deal with this without actually blocking BlackBerry service?
GFITC: It’s simple. You can’t without banning BlackBerry service and if we do that, we will make our professional guest workers very angry.
GGSA: Can’t they just appoint someone to be investigator, prosecutor and judge?
GFITC: In Canada, they only do that with their human rights commissions. With everything else, there are checks and balances.
GGSA: I see. Okay, thanks for your time. Have a good day.

GFITC: Later, dude.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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