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Saudi Arabia Rolls Out – Then Lifts? – Ban on BlackBerries

Saudi Arabia has apparently made good on its declaration that BlackBerry services would be shut down on August 6 over security concerns that the government cannot access BlackBerry users’ encrypted communications. Numerous press outlets reported that BlackBerry email and other services stopped functioning in Saudi Arabia around noon local time, leaving an estimated 700,000 Saudi BlackBerry users with very expensive—but very ordinary—phones. The pending ban has apparently caused a surge in BlackBerries for sale in the country, as some Saudis tried to unload the phones before the ban went into effect.

However, the BBC is reporting that a few hours after BlackBerry service went down, suddenly it was back up again. Reports at this time are not clear whether any restored access is just a glitch in the Saudi Arabian ban, or whether it indicates a policy reversal. The BBC reports BlackBerry maker Research in Motion says a “solution” had been found that satisfied Saudi authorities.

The debate over governments accessing encrypted BlackBerry communications has come to a head in recent days, with first the United Arab Emirates and then Saudi Arabia announcing plans to block the service, with countries like India, Indonesia, and Lebanon also considering bans. (A new nation to add to that list: Algeria.) U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is also weighing in on the issue, saying the U.S. State Department is investigating the issue. “There is a legitimate security concern,” Clinton said, “but there’s also a legitimate right of free use and access. So I think we will be pursuing both technical and expert discussions as we go.”

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