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RIM says will not compromise BlackBerry security, despite upcoming UAE ban on services

Research In Motion said Monday it would not compromise the security of its BlackBerry smart phone, responding to concerns about a possible ban on some of its services in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

RIM said that it respects the regulatory requirements of governments as well as the security and privacy needs of consumers and corporations.

"While RIM does not disclose confidential regulatory discussions that take place with any government, RIM assures its customers that it is committed to delivering highly secure and innovative products that satisfy the needs of both customers and governments," the Canadian tech company said in a statement.

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The Emirates' telecoms regulator said Monday that travelers to the city-state of Dubai and the important oil industry center of Abu Dhabi will - like the 500,000 local subscribers - have to do without BlackBerry e-mail, messaging and Web services starting in October.

Emirati authorities say the upcoming ban is based on security concerns because BlackBerry data is automatically shipped to company computers abroad, where it is stored and difficult for local authorities to monitor for illegal activity or abuse.

Critics of the crackdown say it is also a way for the country's conservative government to further control content they deem politically or morally objectionable. The handsets themselves will still be allowed.

The United States said it was disappointed and that the Gulf nation was setting a dangerous precedent in limiting freedom of information.

"We are committed to promoting the free flow of information," said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. "We think it's integral to an innovative economy."

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"I think it's a very big step back. All developed countries in the world have it. Why should we not?" said Emirati BlackBerry user Maisoon al-Iskandarani, 24, who works at an international bank in Dubai. "How are you going to stay in touch with your clients and colleagues?"

The BlackBerry is well-known known for the security it provides to its users.

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The Waterloo, Ontario-based company said its "security architecture" is widely accepted by customers and governments globally.

"Governments have a wide range of resources and methodologies to satisfy national security and law enforcement needs without compromising commercial security requirements," RIM said.

Analyst Matt Robison of U.S.-based Wunderlich Securities Inc. said the issue could be getting sorted out behind the scenes.

"RIM could be working on further negotiations," Robison said from San Francisco. "This could be just brinksmanship."

Robison said Apple's iPhone and Nokia mobile phones don't face this problem because their services are provided solely by local wireless operators.

He viewed RIM's response as positive.

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"That's encouraging that they feel they've got some firm ground to stand on and their business model isn't so fragile that they must dance to this song."

Robison said similar concerns have also been expressed by countries such as Saudi Arabia and China.

It remains to be seen whether RIM would want to spend the money to put network nodes to handle data locally in UAE, he said.

RIM also said encryption technology isn't unique to the BlackBerry and is considered a requirement for all business-class wireless email services.

>> With files from The Canadian Press, Reuters, and The Associated Press

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