Cultural Interface :

Research In Motion, Death of a Thousand Cuts

After loud and strident statements by both RIM and their founder, Mike Lazaridis, that they would not allow the penetration of their network and the monitoring requested by many authorities of countries they provide the Blackberry service, they now appear to have capitulated to some degree in Saudi Arabia.

Research In Motion is not talking but the authorities in Saudi Arabia are, “In light of the positive developments in completing part of the regulatory requirements from the service providers, the regulatory authority has decided to allow the continuation of the BlackBerry Messenger services,” said the Communications and Information Telecommunications Commission in a statement released through the state run Saudi news agency.

A number of reports are claiming that RIM is supplying Saudi Arabia with unique pin codes for messaging only and for Saudi registered phones. This would suggest that email and other communications are safe and only Saudi citizens are affected. This is being accomplished by running messages through servers located within Saudi Arabia.

Research In Motion may have stepped over the slippery slope, countries are backed up in a line to have similar or deeper access to their systems: United Arab Eremites, Kuwait, Lebanon, Algeria, India and Indonesia have all expressed these demands in various levels of intensity.

“We in Kuwait have no intention to stop the BlackBerry services … but at the same time we are following up on direct and indirect negotiations with the company and with fellow Gulf states,” Mohammad al-Busairi told reporters. –Reuters

While in India, after years of discussions, events have taken a turn for the worse. Authorities are now threatening to shutter the Blackberry service if a meeting tomorrow, Thursday, does not go the direction they wish: having access to monitoring the system. Again, Research In Motion has declined to comment.

The threats from India are more ominous in that they are threatening to go after the heart of Blackberry services, shutting down RIM’s Enterprise Email and Messenger services temporarily if they cannot find common ground. The responsibility of meeting security conditions rests with the Indian telecom services and not with RIM. They have offered to share tracking emails with Indian regulators without sharing encryption but this offer has not satisfied the security authorities.

The nature of the Cultural Interface is that there is no hard and definable surface where a technology or the company pressing the technology forward can clearly say, “one thing is here and another is there.” The overlapping intersection between cultures is frothy and turbulent.

The distance and time that used to separate cultures into regions of the worlds and the empires that suppressed local, tribal traditions and beliefs are now gone as technology brings cultures up against each other.

A man and woman stand on a street in San Francisco, Berlin or London clad in sandals and light summer clothing simply talking. Later, they message or call each other on their Blackberries, doing business, making a date or just joking about their earlier meeting. In much of the Middle East, men and women are not allowed to speak to each other without chaperons and the women are often clad in burka or veils, to allow them to talk or message, unattended, is next to inconceivable in traditional culture.

In many of these countries the notion of national security and the balance with individual rights such as privacy and freedom of speech are vastly different than those traditions in the United States and Europe. It is time that technology companies in the United State behaving in such a naive manner when entering the world at large. Technology and trade agreements are not enough, all sides need to respect the inescapable dimensions of the Cultural Interface.

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