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Note to Saudi Arabia and UAE: Stop picking on the Canadian guy. You’ve got bigger problems.

Enough with the bullies from UAE and Saudi Arabia kicking sand on the skinny Canadian guy.  

The Blackberry service comes from a Canadian company who’s just doing what every communications technology provider is trying to do: respond to growing customer demand for security and privacy of their emails, text messages, and chats. 

So what’s the point of bullying the mild-mannered Canadians, when American giants like Google are already doing the same thing?   Maybe EPIC’s Marc Rotenberg has the answer, "The United Arab Emirates is not in much of a position to tell Google not to encrypt e-mail."

If the UAE and Saudis won’t pick on someone their own size, the global technology and communications industry needs to step in and make this a fair fight. 

But first, lets make sure these Arab governments understand the futility of their fight.   Do they really think that barring Blackberry devices and service will prevent users from encrypting messages?

We have come a long way from the days of putting a wiretap on telephone conversations.  Electronic communications is no longer a single vendor, point-to-point connection.  Today we use packet-based messaging over a multi-layer stack of distinct services managed by multiple vendors.  

I wrote about this "Security Stack" in a paper, which included this chart showing the path of a typical email:

Mail stack

The Blackberry service offers encryption, and assures customers that its network is designed "to exclude the capability for RIM or any third party to read encrypted information under any circumstances."   So, even if Saudi Arabian authorities could see encrypted Blackberry messages, only the sender has the key to read its  contents.

Even if Blackberry’s operator were forced to stop encrypting messages, there are multiple layers in the security stack where devices, services, and networks can provide encryption and other privacy-enhancing features that customers demand.  Encryption can be implemented on nearly any service, so those who want to maintain their privacy will find a way.

Threatening and bullying Blackberry into submission won’t stop citizens from encrypting their messages. That can only be done by forcing similar restrictions on every other provider in the stack.

It’s not likely that the UAE and Saudi governments will pick a fight with every company in a global industry.  Nor is it likely they would ban all electronic messaging, knowing their monarchs would be forced to back down after a few days of embarrassing international criticism.

It’s time for these governments to stop bullying a company that’s investing heavily to bring connectivity, content, and commerce to their own citizens.  It will only lead to a larger fight where everyone loses.

–Steve DelBianco