Bahrain started it. UAE happily followed, and of course Saudi rushes headlong into the gap and slaps an apparent full ban on the Blackberry services. Now, one country after another is announcing or at least mulling how they too can find an excuse to apply their band on a service that has revolutionised how people communicate on the go.
The ever [wannabe] creative Lebanon now ups the anti a bit further, and says that it’s mulling banning the Blackberry services because:
the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority chairman said Beirut will assess security concerns about the smartphones following the arrest of several telecoms employees suspected of spying for Israel. AFP/MSN
There you go, now the remaining 18 Arab countries will all be “contemplating” and many Muslim countries in our illustrious Umma will take this lead (which now officially contains the required passwords: spying and Israel) and will run with it. But they won’t stop at banning Blackberry services, oh no, as their intention is to cut us off from knowledge, choice and the rest of the world, they will expedite their encroachment on curtailing the Internet under this and many other guises.
If we pause a little and try to think about this latest situation rationally, I think one thing which is not said will ultimately be understood: our countries are built on notions of Big Brother. From the way that the religion is applied through to the current crop of political systems, they are all built on the state’s requirement to know every single insignificant thing we do and even think! Their security apparatus is built to serve that requirement, watching every single subject (we really don’t have any “citizens” in our countries, just subjects) is watched. They know every single thing we do, good and bad, and am sure that should they wish, they can blackmail us with information in their files, something that they’re not too shy about doing, and of course, regard for the country’s image in international spheres is immaterial.
With the advent of encryption such as those used by Blackberry and other devices, they suddenly realised that they no longer have immediate access to that information pipe. No matter how much money they throw at decryption and monitoring devices, it’ll take those devices a long time to decode messages, and if and when they do, that piece of information’s useful life would have already expired.
I’m sort of glad that the people who are put in charge of the security apparatus in our countries, are almost always political appointees. Almost no consideration is ever really given to appointee’s technical knowledge, management expertise or even common sense. Loyalty and the ability of the guiltless application of brute and overwhelming force on the other hand, are the top considerations. Therefore, it’s natural that high technology was not molested beyond the usual ham-fisted bans on the usual ogre: block dissenting sites and obfuscate the ban with imbecilic explanations as “corrupting the youth” or “pornographic” or “anti-Muslim” or “anti-Culture”. Of course, these blocks are easily circumvented, thus showing the frivolity of the tools employed to effect the ban, and much more importantly, demonstrates their complete misunderstanding of how the Internet actually works.
It’s too much to hope that with this latest brouhaha around the Blackberry services that they’re starting to actually understand how things work. Not by a long shot. They once again applied 18th century brute-force and blackmail methods to try to “solve” a 21st century technology. These countries’ resort to threats against the Blackberry, apart from making us all as Arab and Muslim human beings the deserved laughing stock of the world, have increased the animosity and disdain the world holds us in.
What is it that the RIM chief said?
“This is about the Internet,” Mr. Lazaridis said. “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.” WSJ.com – 5 Aug 2010
If they can’t deal with the Internet, they should shut it off.
And they shall. Given half a chance. And you know what, the sheep that we have been conditioned to be over centuries will just take it in our stride, won’t complain, and will actually start suggesting “alternatives” and that we don’t need the “Western model of the Internet. We’re going to do our own Islamically sanctified version which – by the grace of Allah – will be much better and more secure than the Western decadent version.”
And our incumbent telecoms company seems to be doing just that, or at least preparing for that eventuality:
Batelco responds to Blackberry Customers Concerns about possible Suspension of Service
In response to continued speculation, Batelco has announced that it is working to ensure that any inconvenience will be minimized for its Blackberry customers if Batelco is directed to suspend some Blackberry services such as the popular messenger or email.
â€œWe want to assure all our Blackberry customers that Batelco is working on alternative offers to minimize any inconvenience should some services be suspended,â€ said Batelco Group General Manager Media Relations Ahmed Al Janahi.
â€œWe will fully comply with any directive to suspend some Blackberry services, should such be issued, as this is a legal obligation on Batelco,â€ continued Mr. Al Janahi.
â€œItâ€™s not proper to speculate what the specific alternative offers will be at this stage. Our Marketing and Sales teams are finalizing such offers. We believe that no Batelco customer should be financially penalized if limitations are placed on some Blackberry services â€“ we will address all customersâ€™ concerns as quickly as practicable,â€ he stated.
Batelco confirmed that no formal directive has been received to date.
â€œAt this stage it is prudent to plan for such a scenario and proactively inform our customers to minimize any concerns they may have. Our commitment to our customers is that we will minimize their inconvenience,â€ concluded Mr. Al Janahi.
All updates on this matter will be posted on our website http://www.batelco.com/blackberryupdate
What did you expect? They release a statement contesting the ban on the basis of unconstitutionality and the direct negative consequence to their shareholders’ profitability? Do you really expect that any other operator in our country would do such a thing? No of course not. They’ll continue to submissively acquiesce to governmental dictates, regardless of how farcical they are. The situation is very much the same – or actually worse – in every other Arab country. Without exception.
So what are we to do?
- I would suggest that we secure ALL of our electronic communications: you want to surf? put an “s” in the URL and surf securely. Almost all sites will have this already enabled and you would be able to access a site if you use “http://” or “https://” – try it, it’s the easiest thing to do.
- If that doesn’t work, use a Virtual Private Network tunnel to access the Internet and send/receive your email – VPN uses encryption which is hard to break
- Surf the Net using a program like Hotspot Shield, if you find this link blocked, you now know why! By the way, as this application uses VPN to “hide” your source and destinations, it’s an effective application to circumvent website blocks. Surf to your heart’s content!
- Encrypt your email
What else is there that you can do as a human being who respects himself? Easy, send a short email or fax to the TRA or whatever government organisation overseeing telecommunications in your country. Simple tell them that as a “citizen” you oppose any governmental interference to access to information, including the blocking of services or websites. If enough people do this, they might – just might – put public opposition in their psyche and they might – just might – think a little longer before blocking a site or service. Even if they don’t, at least YOU have done YOUR duty.
In Bahrain, please send an email to the TRA at the following address:
A sample letter might contain the following:
Dr. Mohammed Ahmed Al-Amer
Telecommunications Regulatory Authority
Kingdom of Bahrain
6 August 2010
I believe that the only way that our country can prosper in a highly competitive global environment is by its clear and unequivocal adoption of modern and secure communication technologies, unencumbered with governmental control.
Therefore, I strongly urge you to remove any ban applied to websites, data communication ports or communication devices’ services and refuse the application of such restrictions should they not be demonstrably and justifiably obtained through the respected judicial apparatus, always keeping in mind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its attendant rights to access to information. Doing so, the TRA will indeed go a long way into establishing a communications environment that enriches the social and commercial fabric of the Kingdom of Bahrain.
UPDATE: Bahraini Crown Prince Shaikh Salman Al-Khalifa weighs in on the debate and terms those who block BBM services as “Ignorant, short sighted and unenforceable.” via FM @khalidalkhalifa Twitter account:
Crown prince Salman personally insuring that BBM service will not stop.”Decision to stop it is ignorant,short sighted and unenforceable”
Good! Excellent! Now let’s take this to the next step and codify it so that no one else dares suggest it in the future. And while on the subject, it’s high time to approve the new Press & Publications law which enshrines freedom of the press, unblock the thousands of sites which are administratively banned and ensure that any further website blocks are only done via the judiciary (and not administratively) and unblock the “Breaking News” service on BlackBerries which has been blocked earlier.