Last week, the UAE and Saudi Arabia decided to block Blackberry services due to what they cited as security concerns. India, which had been considering such a move because Blackberry is what the Mumbai terrorists had used to communicate, decided against such a move. Blackberry’s encryption technology is such that users actually have privacy when communicating with Blackberry devices.
Both UAE and Saudi Arabia are non-democratic regimes and have strict censorship laws, so it is understandable that they would seek to block any communications service they can't intercept. It’s just quotidian life in most of the Arab world.
Today the Lebanese Telecommunications Ministry announced it would review Blackberry services over “security” fears. This comes on the day that the U.S. State Department released its 2009 Country Reports on Terrorism, in which seven designated terrorist organizations were mentioned along with Hezbollah.
Do we really believe these considerations are for “security” purposes?
The Blackberry “discussions” are just the latest in a series of anti-free speech developments in Lebanon. These include the recent passage of an e-transactions law that creates an all powerful governmental body to oversee internet transactions and the arrest of four people who posted anti-Sleiman messages on Facebook.
This is not to mention Lebanon’s woefully inadequate internet infrastructure, which also affects Blackberry information services. The government has paid lip service to infrastructure improvements, agreeing in principle to buying more bandwidth but somehow finding a way to keep that bandwidth from reaching people.
Yet, I find it difficult to believe the Lebanese government is motivated by the same authoritarian impulses of its UAE and Saudi counterparts. No, Lebanon may have just a shadow of a real democracy, but the Lebanese government is not really seeking to control the communications of its citizens. Rather, it seeks to control the flow of money resulting from its citizens needs and desires for information and communications technology. It does this by passing go and collecting its $200 again and again and again and again.
We can only hope Research In Motion, the company that makes Blackberry devices, does not cave in to non-democratic regimes across the world and alter their devices so that governments can monitor the lives of their citizens. We all know how Google, Yahoo, and other tech companies have succumbed to the dictatorial commands of such authoritarian regimes as China (fortunately, Google changed its mind early this year.) Hopefully in the Blackberry case, human rights will triumph over the Almighty Dollar.