Saudi Arabia to block BlackBerry service on Friday

Tue Aug 3, 2010 7:04pm EDT
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By Sohail Karam and Sinead Carew

RIYADH/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia on Tuesday ordered at least one Research In Motion's BlackBerry smartphone service to be blocked as of Friday, becoming the latest government to threaten to curb the device on security grounds.

The issue, which pits governments against BlackBerry's super-secure encrypted services, has flared at a particularly inopportune time for RIM. On Tuesday, the company wanted all eyes on the unveiling of its new BlackBerry model at an event in New York.

The new touch-screen BlackBerry Torch is considered RIM's response to tough competition on its North American home turf from the likes of Apple Inc's iPhone, which is driving the company to seek new markets offshore.

Hours before Saudi Arabia's move, a RIM executive said governments were unlikely to carry through on threats because state officials themselves depend heavily on the iconic devices for communication.

"I believe they'll have trouble pulling the trigger to shut down BlackBerry," RIM Chief Technology Officer David Yach told Reuters on the sidelines of the New York launch bash. "Most governments in the world rely on BlackBerry.

Earlier, newspapers reported that RIM may make concessions to India and Kuwait after their governments voiced concerns the security risk posed by the smartphones, fearing they could be used for plots against the state.

Unlike rivals Nokia and Apple, RIM controls its own networks, which handle encrypted messages through centers in Canada and the UK.

But Canada-based RIM said in an emailed statement that "claims" it has provided unique wireless services or access to any one country are "unfounded.   Continued...

<p>A woman uses her Blackberry at a shopping mall in Dubai, August 2, 2010. REUTERS/Mosab Omar</p>