Monday, 9 August 2010
I'm still not entirely sure whether this is a joke or for real, but NewsBiscuit had reported that Saudi and UAE authorities have ordered Blackberry users to cover their phones in a tiny Burqa. Ironically, the article claims that the tiny burqa might in fact result in poor reception - incidently, especially in burqa-phobic France and Belgium more than other countries.
This new hoax (perhaps) comes at a time when the two GCC countries, alongside Lebanon, start a new inquiry in the security aspect of Smartphone and Blackberry technology. The three Middle Eastern countries are all considering barring Blackberry emailing and instant messaging services over security concerns instigating US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's intervention on behalf of the investors and manufacturers of Blackberry and Smartphone technology.
India, Indonesia and Algeria are also "contemplating" barring Blackberry services in their countries.
Whereas Lebanon fears Blackberry Messaging Services (BBM) might be used by Israeli spies and operatives in Lebanon, Algeria, Indonesia and GCC's Saudi Arabia and UAE are worried the technology might evolve into an uncontrollable terrorist communication networks. Imad Hoballah, chairman of Lebanon's telecommunications regulator, on the other hand, announced on Thursday his country's desire to assess concerns linked to Blackberry after the arrest of several telecoms employees suspected of spying for Israel.
Canada-based Research in Motion (RiM) is currently negotiating (or explaining) to authorities in these countries the potential of Smartphone technology and trying to convince them of the controllable nature of their threats. So far however, RiM has failed to address the concerns of the Saudi authorities who suspended Blackberry services as of Friday. In a conservative and highly-security conscious Saudi Arabia, a survey of 331 people found 178 opposed to the ban versus 153 in favour. For some Saudi businessmen, the ban means they can free to walk about with their Blackberries in public without the feeling that people are staring lustily at their multi-media applications. For others, it covers their "shame" for not owning an iPhone!
Many human rights activists and freedom of expression advocates however have a different take on the ban and the burqa. May of them, worry that barring Blackberry and other Smartphone technologies might in fact be part of the authorities attempts to limit the free flow of information and infringe on individuals' right to free expression.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE advertise themselves as prime business-friendly economies in the world. Lebanon on the other hand advertises itself as a safe haven for free expression, a liberal media and the free flow of information. Both Lebanon and its GCC peers have been heavily criticised in past months for new legislation and administrative measures believed to be restrictive of free expression.