Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Smarter the Phone The Bigger the Genie in the Bottle

Recently politicos in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced a ban on email, text messages and web surfing from all BlackBerry smart phones in their country.

UAE placed the ban on Canadian-based Research in Motion (RIM) BlackBerry smart phones, because they cannot monitor email, text or web browsing, their highly regulated digital universe.

RIM is known for producing one of the most secure networks for any mobile device -- all BlackBerry information is funnelled through RIM’s own highly encrypted and secure servers, unlike Apple’s iPhone and Google-based Android smart phones, which depend on local cell phone carriers for data transfer and encryption services.

Controversy surrounding the state and freedom is nothing new – some of the greatest thinkers of our time have had clashes on their views from the state.

Copernicus faced excommunication from the Catholic Church, when he announced his discovery that the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe as was the populist thought back in the 16th century. Although he was right that the Sun was the center of the universe, and the Earth and all the planets rotated around the Sun, Copernicus was shunned by many – if BlackBerrys existed back then, his would have probably been bugged.

These days, when governments censor digital communications, they do so at the risk of turning back time on their citizens.

Just look at Google’s battle with China over censorship. Google threatened to pull out of China completely, unless the Chinese government backed off.

For most of us in North America, we couldn’t imagine a world without Google – it is the world’s largest Internet search engine.

UAE’s attempts to control BlackBerry communications are just another attempt by an overly powerful government to keep their citizens in the Dark Ages, by keeping technological genies in bottles out of the country.

Government officials in UAE claim they put the ban on the BlackBerry – which takes effect this October – because they can’t monitor email, text messages and web surfing patterns for illegal activities on it thanks to the highly secure RIM servers.

RIM says they are working with UAE officials to minimize the effects of the ban and perhaps have the ban lifted.

Saudi Arabia announced they too are also considering a ban on smart phone communications, and who knows what other dictatorships down the road may do so as well.

There is no word yet from the Chinese government on if they too are planning bans on smart phone communications, however if their recent and very public fight with Google are any indication, chances are they will jump onto the bandwagon.

The problem here isn’t just between private corporations like RIM and governments, the problem here is a global problem of epic proportions.

Yes, here in North America, and much of the Western World, we enjoy freedom of expression thanks to our open society. But isn’t it about time our world leaders took a more aggressive stand against other countries which trump their citizens freedoms?

Isn’t it about time our politicians stood up for the rights and freedoms of those who don’t have freedom to chat, text, email – essentially the freedom to think and express those thoughts?

Our digital world is making it harder and harder for political systems which rely on fear and domination – as it should. Now that we have the technology to break down these barriers, isn’t it about time our political leaders use that as a stepping stone to do just that?

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