By Souhail Karam and Diana Elias
RIYADH/KUWAIT (Reuters) – BlackBerry maker and Saudi mobile firms are testing three servers to send communications and data through Saudi Arabia before Canada to address Riyadh’s concerns over security, a Saudi official said on Sunday.
Pressed by security authorities, the Saudi telecom regulator has given the kingdom’s three mobile carriers until Monday to fulfill unspecified requirements before it proceeds with a threat to shut down the BlackBerry’s Messenger.
The ban was meant to be enacted on Friday and would have affected some 700,000 users in the kingdom.
If satisfied the three servers would grant it suitable access to BlackBerry data and communications, the regulator would allow all BlackBerry services to continue normally.
Neighboring Kuwait said it was also talking to the BlackBerry manufacturer about security and moral concerns, particularly about access for its nationals to pornographic sites.
The Canadian firm has come under scrutiny from other countries as well, including India, Lebanon and Algeria, regarding access to its encrypted network which governments want monitored to avert possible threats to national security.
Kuwait has no intention of stopping BlackBerry services for the time being but is talking to the device’s manufacturer about moral and security concerns, Communications Minister Mohammad al-Busairi said.
“As of right now, we in Kuwait have no intention to stop the BlackBerry services … but at the same time we are following up on direct and indirect negotiations with the company and with fellow Gulf states,” Busairi said.
The telecoms regulator in Saudi Arabia, the Canadian firm’s biggest Middle East market, on Saturday told the country’s three mobile firms to test a proposed fix to the perceived national security threat posed by BlackBerry smartphones.
SERVERS IN FOCUS
The Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) said it would decide whether to allow the Messenger service to continue or not “depending on the results achieved by the service providers.” It did not say what a solution would be.
“Three servers are being tested, one for each of the three mobile operators. We’re waiting for feedback (from the telecoms firms),” an official from CITC’s technical department told Reuters on Sunday.
The tests began after talks on Thursday between Research In Motion and the Saudi regulator.
The Kuwaiti minister, who is also the government spokesman, said the Gulf state had unspecified “moral and security” concerns about the use of BlackBerry, and that RIM has asked for four months to deal with its request to block pornographic sites.
“We sense cooperation from the company,” Busairi said.
Many citizens in Saudi Arabia, where Islamic clerics wield strong influence, also think the device encourages what they perceive as debauchery since it allows unrelated men and women to interact in the deeply conservative country.
Neighboring United Arab Emirates, where RIM has 500,000 users, has proposed a ban starting October 11 targeting BlackBerry Messenger as well as email and Web browsing on the device. RIM had said earlier in the week that third-party access to its network was impossible.
Using local servers would give the Saudi authorities better access to messages that have been handled exclusively through servers in Canada and the United Kingdom.
The U.S. and Canadian governments have expressed concern about the implications of banning BlackBerry services.