Blackberry phones safe in Asia

Governments probably would face too much resistance if they tried to ban the devices, reports Asia Sentinel

Rest easy, Asian businessmen, it doesn’t look likely that many – or even any — governments will follow the lead of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to ban BlackBerry smartphone services, according to a survey across the region. Given the ubiquity and popularity of the devices on the part of businessmen and government leaders as well, it would probably be impossible. 

Unlike the iPhone and other smartphones, which typically send data through open networks, the BlackBerry uses sophisticated encryption devices run through their Canadian servers that not only raise security concerns over potential terrorists but also keep governments from listening in both to circumscribe freedom of speech and to thwart corruption. The customer creates his own security key and there appears no way for eavesdroppers to break into the system. The Waterloo, Ontario-based Research in Motion, which manufacturers the devices, said it can’t even read user transmissions.

“BlackBerry’s security model is very different from others,” said Kevin Mahaffey of Lookout mobile security. “It is end-to-end and the encryption is so strong nobody knows how to monitor it.” 

An official with Indonesia’s Telecommunications Regulatory Body started the fuss in Jakarta on Wednesday, telling reporters a ban was being considered for services such as BlackBerry Messenger, email and Internet access after announcements by India and Saudi Arabia that they planned to restrict access because of security concerns. Saudi Arabian communications officials have given Research in Motion until Friday to knuckle under. 

“We share the same concerns as those countries,” said Heru Sutadi, a member of the agency. “This is about our national security.” 

However, on Thursday the government hastily backed away from any such plan, with Communications Ministry spokesman Gatot Dewa Broto telling reporters that the government had only requested Research in Motion open a “data center” in Indonesia so that the data didn’t have to be routed through Canada, where the company’s encrypted servers are based.