Lebanon has revealed that it is looking into the use of BlackBerry handsets in the country amid concerns that the devices put communications by hostile groups beyond state monitoring.
The decision to assess the security of the devices, announced by Lebanon's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority on Thursday, follows wider concerns about the integrity of the country's telecoms network after the arrest of three people suspected of spying on behalf of Israel, according to the Arabic newspaper As-Safir.
The investigation makes Lebanon the third Middle Eastern country in the space of a week to announce that it is investigating the use of Research In Motion's (RIM) handsets within their borders.
This is about the internet. Everything on the internet is encrypted. This is not a BlackBerry-only issue. If they can't deal with the internet, they should shut it off.– Mike Lazaridis, RIM chief
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has said that it will issue a blanket ban on BlackBerry's encrypted services, such as email, messenger and web browsing services, effective as of 11 October. In addition, Saudi Arabia's Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) has said that as of Friday, BlackBerry's messenger functions will not be allowed. Email and web-browsing services should both still function correctly, however.
Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia are unhappy about the way in which BlackBerry encrypts the data it transfers and that the information is sent to servers located in other countries, as these make it difficult to monitor communications.
On Thursday, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said that her country will hold talks with the UAE in hope of easing the BlackBerry ban.
"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 a group of journalists. "But there is also a legitimate right of free use and access. So I think we will be pursuing both technical and expert discussions."
At a later State Department press briefing, assistant secretary of state Philip Crowley said that the US government had been in touch with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, India and other countries to try to resolve their security concerns. He responded to questions as to whether the US government's own use of BlackBerry devices was behind its intervention on behalf of Canada-based RIM by noting that the issue of balancing security concerns with free communications goes beyond just RIM.
"We have interest in trying to ensure the free flow of information using technology to expand the knowledge that's available to people and business people. If some of these countries follow through on what they've announced, it would have an impact on the US government and our diplomats operating in different countries. So we are directly affected by what has been suggested. But obviously we know that both American citizens traveling abroad [and] the citizens of other countries would be affected as well," Crowley said.
In response to the situation, RIM has said that it is unable to break its own encryption and therefore cannot give governments the ability to do so. On Wednesday, the company's chief executive Mike Lazaridis told The Wall Street Journal that the issue went beyond just BlackBerry and the countries in question.
"This is about the internet," Lazaridis said in the report. "Everything on the internet is encrypted. This is not a BlackBerry-only issue. If they can't deal with the internet, they should shut it off."