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UAE to curb BlackBerry Enterprise Server use

Unrest in region leads to new limits

News sources in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are reporting that individuals and small companies will soon no longer be allowed to use BlackBerry's super-encrypted Enterprise Server (BES).

The country's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) has yet to confirm regulation of the service but a national newspaper in the country has reported that single users and companies with fewer than 20 accounts will be stopped from using BES as early as 1 May.

Last year, the Emirates came close to banning the use of the BlackBerry Messenger outright over concerns that the service's data was being stored outside the country and beyond the reach of its security services. With a ban in sight, the country reached a compromise with BlackBerry's maker, RIM, which allowed the service to continue.

The terms of that deal were never explained in technical detail but would have related to the vanilla BlackBerry Messenger service at the very least. The latest restrictions mostly likely are a way of extending that to the secure BES service normally used only by companies.

BlackBerry said in a statement that the restrictions being imposed on its services would apply to all providers, not just RIM. But the reason many users are attracted to RIM's Messenger and BES is precisely that it has a layer of encryption that makes it hard for governments to monitor.

In principle, there is little to stop users reverting to encrypted email, but that could also be blocked more easily at ISP level by a country in a time of unrest. The BES is designed as a resilient service that bypasses such Internet controls.

Other countries in what is now a hugely combustible region of the world have expressed the same security worries, notably Saudi Arabia, which reached a similar deal to monitor messaging to and from its borders.

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