Indonesia joins countries mulling BlackBerry ban to fight terror

Published 4 August 2010

Indonesia considers joining a growing list of countries, including India, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in banning BlackBerry devices; Research in Motion is receiving increasing pressure to allow government access to data generated by the hand-held devices

Last week, we wrote about India considering a ban on BlackBerry devices over terrorist concerns.

Now Indonesia is joining Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in possibly imposing a ban on the popular hand-held communication devices unless they can gain greater access to the data generated by them. Bahrain, among others, has also expressed a desire to better control BlackBerry’s news dissemination services.


The Associated Press’ Niniek Karmini writes that Indonesia said Wednesday it is considering following the lead of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in banning BlackBerry services, adding to pressure on service provider Research in Motion Ltd.

Gatot Dewabroto, spokesman for the Ministry of Communication and Information, wants RIM to set up a server locally so encrypted information sent by the phones will not have to be routed through the Canadian company’s overseas computers.

We don’t know whether data being sent through BlackBerrys can be intercepted or read by third parties outside the country,” he said, expressing concern that information could be used by criminals or spies.

Just hours before, Saudi Arabia said its telecom regulator had ordered mobile operators across the kingdom to halt BlackBerry services as of Friday. The United Arab Emirates will also shut down e-mail, messaging and Web browsing on BlackBerrys starting in October.

India is in talks with RIM over how information is managed on the devices. The Times of India reported on 29 July of this year that the India wanted a server set in India as a monitoring unit, as China is reported to have negotiated with RIM.

Analysts say RIM’s expansion into fast-growing emerging markets is threatening to set off a wave of regulatory challenges, as the device maker’s commitment to keep corporate e-mails secure rubs up against the desires of local law enforcement.

RIM has said discussions with the more than 175 countries where it operates are private. It does offer help to governments, but says its technology does not allow it, or any third party, to read encrypted e-mails sent by corporate BlackBerry users. (The consumer version has a lower level of security.) The e-mails are, however, unencrypted on the servers of corporate clients, and can be obtained from the companies.

Satchit Gayakwad, an RIM spokesman in India, denied there were plans to give the government greater control over surveillance of its corporate clients.

We won’t compromise on the security architecture of our corporate e-mails,” he said. “We respect the requirements of regulatory bodies in terms of security, but we also look at the customer’s need for privacy.”

Dewabroto said Indonesia, one of the largest providers of Blackberry services in Southeast Asia with more than 1 million users, is still just mulling a ban. But it wouldn’t be the first time it has taken on the device maker: Service was blocked in 2008 until RIM agreed to set up sales service centers for users inside the country.

An unnamed Saudi security official has reportedly confirmed that “This service might be used to serve terrorism,” the official said.

BlackBerry phones are known to be popular both among business people and youth in the kingdom who see the phones’ relatively secure communication features as a way to avoid attention from the authorities. Terrorists may well see it the same way.