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Internet security: Behind BlackBerry ban, rising concerns over smartphones

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Kamran Jebreili/AP/File

(Read caption) In this Nov. 30, 2009 file photo, a man talks on his smartphone at the Dubai Financial Market in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The UAE says it will block key features on BlackBerry smartphones starting in October, because the devices operate beyond the government's ability to monitor their use.

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The spat between BlackBerry and Middle East governments is part of a growing debate over Internet security in a mobile age.

The smartphones and other portable devices that allow people to send emails, transfer bank funds, and hold remote meetings can also be used by dissidents and terrorists to challenge governments. So the more that commercial wireless systems try to protect data from prying eyes, the more authoritarian and even democratic regimes worry about plots.

The BlackBerry is of particular concern to some governments because it encrypts wireless data and uses a closed network to route it unlike other smartphones that use various e-mail services and whose data often travel openly via the Internet. The security is so good that the US government reportedly allows military and law enforcement employees to send confidential messages via BlackBerry.

But that level of security worries Saudi Arabia, which says it will ban a key portion of BlackBerry’s service Friday, and the UAE, which says it will halt BlackBerry data services, such as e-mail, texting, and Internet browsing, unless the company allows it to monitor its data transmissions. BlackBerry is made by the Canadian firm Research in Motion (RIM).

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