Can foreign country's authoritarian governments truly stop RIM and others from penetrating their markets?

Posted by Knowlton Thomas

Strict foreign policies linger like a heavy, shadowy fog over Research in Motion's ability to penetrate overseas markets. Security concerns and regulations cited by various foreign government such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China, and India, loom large over North American countries, such as Google, Facebook, and RIM, who are pushing for true globalization.

The authoritarian governments want to control information and deepen surveillance to tackle dissent and insurgency, saying they want access to the encrypted phones to monitor security threats. In the Blackberry case, failure from RIM's end to meet their conditions may result in certain threats becoming reality, which means having Blackberry messaging functions blocked in some countries.

"It is part of a wider trend," Jonathan Wood is quoted as saying in The Province. Jonathan is a global-issues analyst at London-based consultancy Control Risks, which advises companies on security, corruption, politics and other issues. "After 9/11, you had this huge expansion of Western powers monitoring electronic communications for national security. Other countries are now catching up. The difference is they want to use it more broadly."


Companies like RIM are realizing the difficulties in globalizing services.

"It's obviously going to be a concern for Western business," Jonathan continued. "You have the risk that some of this information may be used for commercial purposes."

So what does this all mean for the future of global wireless security and other global internet services? It depends a lot on who budges first—if RIM decides to cave in to foreign demands, many Western forces will probably be forced to recoil in unison, because the governments overseas will become even stiffer. But if RIM can negotiate its way out of this mess in a manner that sees its services remain unbanned, yet keeps its Blackberry messaging functions in a state of RIM-controlled security, that will pave the way for future successes.

It's all about the next move and who can set the standard. 

RIM's dispute with the United Arab Emirates will be particularly influential because of its unusually public nature. What GSMK CEO Bjoern Rupp called a "clumsy approach," the UAE's outright ban is contrary to the typical attack ploy: "Most countries with an active interest in monitoring their citizens' telecommunications act in a much more sophisticated and subtle way in order to keep such activities out of the public spotlight," Bjoern told Reuters.

One thing that seems certain, though, is that regardless if Blackberries can eventually be a standard mode of communication in these foreign countries, some tool for communication will be. A human rights activist and UAE lawyer said that the Blackberry messaging function was a "revolution" for people in his country—it "awakened" them, and he's confident they won't be willing to sleep easy if their toys are taken away.

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Knowlton Thomas

Knowlton Thomas

Knowlton is the managing editor of Techvibes. Based in Vancouver, Knowlton has been published in national publications and has also appeared on television and radio. Previously he was an editor for New Westminster weekly The Other Press and served on its board of directors. When not working, Knowlton enjoys playing tennis, hiking, and exploring weird side streets. more

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