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Saudi-Arabia stanser Blackberry-telefonenes krypterte tjenester fredag, og De forente arabiske emirater vil gjøre det samme 11. oktober. Nå sier Libanon at det vurderer det samme. Hva er det landene frykter?

Libanon har en pågående spionsak, hvor det hevder å ha avslørt tre israelske spioner i telesystemet. Men Libanon vil bare ha samtaler med firmaet bak Blackberry, canadiske Research in Motion, og sier deres initiativ ikke har noe med de andre landenes sensur å gjøre.

Blackberry har webbrowsing, epost og en messengertjeneste som går kryptert gjennom RIMs servere i Canada. UAE viser til sikkerhetshensyn, men er andre land i verden mindre sikkerhetsbevisste? Kan ha det ha mer prosaiske grunner, som kontroll med borgernes moral? I Saudi-Arabia sier folk at telefonene korrumperer ungdommen. Kan det være at Blackberryene gir ungdommer og kvinner mulighet til ukontrollert kommunikasjon og at det oppleves som en trussel?

Det hele virker merkelig. Kuwait sier de ikke tenker vedta noe forbud. Blackberry sier det kommer med en versjon i oktober, Torch, uten disse krypterte tjenestene.

Er fremstøtet en blanding av moral og sensur, dvs. har sensuren også internasjonale selskaper som adressat, som ikke vil gjøre som autoritære stater ønsker?

Saken er blitt så alvorlig at Hillary Clinton tar fatt i den. Hvis regjeringer kan begynne å bestemme tekniske spesifikasjoner på massekommunikasjon kan det true det åpne samfunn. Saken har en klar ytringsfrihetsdimensjon.

I autoritære stater er kontroll med telesystemene ensbetydende med makt. Hizbollah har bygget sitt eget mobilnett i Libanon.

As the row spread, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States and the UAE would soon hold talks on the Gulf business hub’s halting of BlackBerry messenger, web browsing and email services.

«We are taking time to consult and analyse the full range of interests and issues at stake, because we know that there is a legitimate security concern,» Clinton told reporters in Washington.

But she said there was also a «legitimate right of free use and access» and added that the United States was also working with unspecified other countries on the issue.

The row centres on concerns that BlackBerry’s encrypted services — which involve data being routed through secure servers in Canada, where manufacturer Research in Motion (RIM) is based — could be used by militants or criminals.

Clinton’s spokesman, Philip Crowley, told reporters later that Washington is «reaching out» to Saudi Arabia, India and other countries that have similar security concerns in a bid to find solutions.

Crowley said US officials also planned to hold follow-on talks with RIM to determine how to balance the need for security and that for information.

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In conservative and highly security-conscious Saudi Arabia, BlackBerry users had access to services for what could be a final day — but many people welcomed the ban, saying the devices are corrupting the nation’s youth.

Saudi Arabia’s Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) said on Tuesday that it had ordered the kingdom’s three mobile phone providers to block BlackBerry services or face a 1.3-million-dollar fine.

The normally tech-savvy UAE, which was the first to announce a BlackBerry ban, has said its decision to ban BlackBerry services from October is final, though adding that it remains open to an «acceptable, regulatory-compliant solution».

But a spokeswoman for RIM, quoted in Abu Dhabi’s The National newspaper, said the Torch version of the phone, due for release next week in the United States, will be available in the UAE from October.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Bahrain’s mobile provider Batelco said it already has alternative plans in case Bahrain imposes a ban, while VIVA Telecom in Kuwait said it would not block any BlackBerry services.

India is mulling restrictions but Indonesia on Thursday denied it was considering banning BlackBerry services, although it did not rule it out.AFP

US steps in as BlackBerry row spreads